Michael Marshall Smith (www.michaelmarshallsmith.com)

HarperVoyager (harpervoyagerbooks.co.uk)


Hannah Green is eleven years old, and lives with her father in the small coastal California town of Santa Cruz. Hannah’s parents have recently split, her mother now working in London, and Hannah is beginning to feel that her life could be best described as mundane, a word she has recently learned from her Aunt Zoë. Hannah’s father is not coping well with the separation and, in an attempt to get some space to think he sends his daughter to stay with her itinerant grandfather. But Granddad is not all he seems; when an old man turns up looking for Granddad’s help, and calling Granddad the Engineer, Hannah finds herself involved in the adventure of a lifetime. Granddad, it would seem, is over three hundred years old, and his friend claims to be none other than the Devil himself.

It is four years since we’ve seen a novel-length release from Michael Marshall, and closer to ten since his Michael Marshall Smith alter ego has provided us with something. While the fact that Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence was being released almost passed me by, I’m very happy to report that it has been well worth the wait, regardless of which personality you’ve been waiting for. It’s a wonderful coming-of-age story, as a young girl learns the value of family and friendship, and that no-one is truly good or evil, but one of many shades of grey that form the spectrum between the two. At its core is a quest that examines this disparity in more detail: Hannah Green and her grandfather must help the Devil, and in doing so, save the world.

Granddad is the Engineer, a man who has created an intricate machine that draws evil from the world and channels it through Hell, providing the Devil with power. The Devil has been missing for some time now, and when he wakes up on the terrace of a Miami hotel, he has no memory of where he has been, and he quickly learns that the machine no longer seems to be working. When he tracks down the Engineer, an accident imp by the name of Vaneclaw at his side, he discovers that his old friend has company in the form of his eleven-year-old granddaughter. This is as much Granddad’s story as it is Hannah’s and, in fact, Granddad is the only character whose background is examined in any detail during the course of the story. His comfort around the Devil makes the fallen angel’s presence seem more natural and, despite the evil that follows him like a bad smell, we can’t help but like the grumpy old man in the rumpled black suit.

Hannah treads that fine line between childhood and young adulthood, too old to be one, and not quite old enough to be the other. She’s a precocious child, and she hardly bats an eyelid as she learns the truth about her grandfather, and her grandfather’s friend. As the action moves from the Pacific Northwest to the bottom of a crevasse in the deepest wilderness of Siberia, it becomes clear that Hannah retains the resilience and courage of a young child, and this helps to keep her focussed on the task at hand. Her relationship with the Devil and his sidekick seems to be a playful one, despite the constant danger that surrounds them, and it’s clear that by the end of the story, the old man has a grudging respect for the young girl.

Smith’s sense of humour shines through in the narrative, which is peppered with jokes and comic observations, and it’s the perfect tone for the story he wants to tell. That said, there is never any doubt that we’re in the presence of the Devil, the humour not quite disguising the old man’s true nature. Prepare to laugh out loud and experience shivers within the space of a couple of sentences. No-one is safe from the Devil’s whims, and the background body count grows with each interaction.

The rage [the Devil] felt was sufficient that, fifteen miles away, a father of three who was camping in the woods with two other families reached immediately for the axe he’d used to help build the fire upon which he and his best friends were about to grill steaks and deployed it to commit acts so appalling that they passed into local legend. Two heads were never found.

Smith describes the story’s origin as a bedtime tale he told his son and, despite the very odd swear-word, there is an argument that Hannah Green would be suitable for a younger audience. Much of the humour and several plot elements are aimed at a much older audience, so the story works on a number of levels. I’ll give it a couple of years before I introduce it to my 7-year-old, but it seems like the perfect entry-point, alongside the likes of King’s The Eyes of the Dragon and Gaiman’s Coraline or The Graveyard Book, to the often-horrific worlds of the weird and the wonderful.

Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence is beautifully-written and entirely engrossing. It’s the type of book that cries out – and deserves – to be read in a single sitting. The characters – even the obviously fictional ones – are fresh, interesting, and fairly leap from the page, and the narrative voice is a touch of sheer genius. It is great to see Michael Marshall Smith back at the helm, and Hannah Green is an excellent return to form for one of the world’s best – and possibly most underrated – authors of speculative fiction. If you’ve read Smith, you know what I’m talking about; if not, start here, and work your way back to some of his earlier masterpieces. Either way, Hannah Green and the Devil await your company; you won’t want to miss them.


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