Killer Nashville Book of the Day
The Devil’s Bible by Dana Chamblee Carpenter
Reviewed by Kelly Saderholm
Fans of Dana Chamblee Carpenter’s Bohemian Gospel (Pegasus 2015) will be thrilled that the wait for more of Mouse’s adventures is over. The Devil’s Bible (Pegasus 2017) offers more of Mouse’s story in this beautifully crafted and extraordinarily well-researched novel which begins where Bohemian Gospel ends, in 13th century Bohemia—a setting that Carpenter brings to life with her smart, lively writing and attention to historical detail. For those not familiar with the first work, Mouse is an orphan left at a monastery. She has a mysterious origin and odd powers—powers that even the holy place’s residents cannot identify or explain.
In the Devil’s Bible, we flash forward into the modern day. Mouse is a professor and scholar working at an American University. When a former student of hers presents research on the mysterious Devil’s Bible, Mouse realizes that he is dangerously close to the truth of her own existence. The relic is a hand-written bible from medieval times that is shrouded in mystery and legend. As the name would suggest, the book is rumored to be written by the Devil himself. Through the centuries it has called out to scholars and those seeking power. It is whispered that those who come in contact with this ancient book are never the same afterward.
Hoping for a normal life, Mouse goes into hiding. All too soon she realizes that she has been found and that those close to her are in danger. She also learns that certain pages of the Devil’s Bible are missing, and she suspects those pages hold the key to the resolution of the conflict from which she’s spent centuries hiding—a conflict that is revealed to us in a series of deftly-crafted flashbacks.
In The Devil’s Bible, Carpenter has crafted well-rounded and complex characters. The novel’s plot is interesting and fast-moving. She provides gorgeous historical detail, without bogging down the novel’s pacing. Carpenter’s prose is detailed without being convoluted, and she weaves plotlines and histories together into a masterfully crafted tapestry of a tale. The history, the rich details, the folklore, and legends, with a dose of magical realism are reminiscent of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian and Umberto Eco’s the Name of the Rose.
Carpenter based The Devil’s Bible on the true-life medieval manuscript Codex Gigas, (Giant Book) or, as it has been known throughout history, “Devil’s Bible,” a name it received due to a large portrait of the Devil inside the manuscript. There is also a legend about a monk who sold his soul to the Devil in order to complete the work. There is more to this ancient tome than just the canonical books of the Bible; it also contains history, medical information, magic spells and other mysterious works. Carpenter cleverly uses all these pieces to conjure a riveting tale and memorable characters. She casts a spell over readers who, once they start reading, will find it nearly impossible to put The Devil’s Bible down.
Dana Chamblee Carpenter’s debut novel, Bohemian Gospel won the 2014 Killer Nashville Claymore Award. Her short fiction has appeared in The Arkansas Review, Jersey Devil Press, and Maypop. She is a professor in Nashville, Tennessee and is currently at work on another novel.
Kelly Saderholm has written, blogged, and lectured about aspects of the mystery novel. She has moderated panels and presented papers at literary conferences, on both the Mystery Novel and Urban Fantasy. She is currently writing a non-fiction book dealing with Folklore in the American South. She is a recipient of a Kentucky Foundation for Women Writer’s grant. She lives in South Central Kentucky with her family and two feline office assistants.