Review by Karl Verhoven
Denise Mina’s crime novels are a heady fusion of Glasgow’s seamier side, steeped in the culture and history of her hometown. On the face of it this would make her a natural match with the dark magic of John Constantine, but Empathy is the Enemy is disappointing, long on lure and short on pay-off.
Drinking in London, Constantine is approached by a man at the end of his tether. Chris Cole has been tricked into a minor incantation that’s left him saturated with the emotions of others, and it’s tearing him apart. Someone called Steve Evans has suggested he locate Constantine who may be able to help. Wiping Cole’s recent memory to ease his torment, Constantine agrees to accompany him back to Glasgow and the source of the problem, fully aware that it’s a form of trap. This journey takes another three chapters, over which the pair are stalked by minor demons expecting to feast off the resulting trouble.
In one of the narrative’s better touches, Evans is a minor local authority gump when he’s not toying with magic. “Evans, have you filled out the BP 1023 yet?” “Yes”, “But have you photocopied it three times and put the N.O.S. number on it?”
The whole story is suffused with a dank atmosphere well illustrated by Leonardo Manco. His cast are grimy, skulking in shadow and fearful. And well they should be as Mina reveals there’s a third gatherer of souls operating independently of heaven and hell.
When the curtain is finally pulled back on the big reveal, it’s interesting, tying into the seemingly random flashbacks to pre-Christianity on the remote island of Oronsay. Yet no sooner are we into that then it’s the end. It’s rapid, uncharacteristic and puzzling. Those unaware the story continues in The Red Right Hand, and there’s no indication of this, will be left scratching their heads.