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Literature / City of Devils

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City of Devils is a neo-noir comic novel with b-movie monsters.

It's 1950s Los Angeles, but the Night War has changed everything. Monsters are the norm, and humans are the minority. Nick Moss is the last human detective in a city full of monsters, and he's tracking down a missing mummy. Along the way, almost every monster he meets wants to turn him into one of them.

The book has three sequels, Fifty Feet of Trouble and Wolfman Confidential continue the story of Nick Moss, while A Stitch In Crime stars meat golem Jane Stitch.

City of Devils provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Sure, Oculon is a crawling eye responsible for the kidnap and forcible turning of humans into monsters, but he's a nice enough guy.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of both film noir and monster movies.
  • Anthropomorphic Food: Several forms of killer vegetable are mentioned, including a carnivorous carrot that's apparently working as a teamster. Sam Haine the pumpkinhead also qualifies, as at least his head is presumably edible.
  • Anti-Villain: Chops has a very good reason for picking off the New American Benevolent Society. They turned her into a gremlin as a form of pornography.
  • Badass Biker: Cacophony Jones and the rest of the Howlers are a biker gang composed entirely of phantoms (as in "of the opera").
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The three most prominent female characters are the doppelganger Imogen Verity (who usually appears blonde), the siren (brunette albeit with green highlights) Serendipity Sargasso, and the witch Hexene Candlemas. Imogen is the untouchable movie star ice queen, Serendipity the loyal and starstruck secretary, and Hexene the pugnacious hex slinger. This trope also shows up with the Salem Sisters, the close harmony group/witch coven, with Hyacinth, Verbena, and Lily respectively (in the roles of crone, mother, and maiden).
  • Brain Food: Lampshaded, as the zombies of the world can only say "brains" with different inflections.
  • Brain in a Jar: The brainiacs, seen briefly, are a kind of monster. They're brains in jars.
  • Brand X: The book features a number of products for monsters, the most prominent being Pharaoh brand bandages for mummies. The book features these in vintage advertisements for the Oldsmobile Brainwave (a car for brainiacs), Ocutol (eyedrops for crawling eyes), and the Para-Sol (to keep vampires and gremlins out of the sun).
  • Chekhov's Gun: The moonshine in the storage room of the Bomb Shelter is later used by Nick to knock Sam Haine unconscious.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Nick Moss is a nervous, stuttering, weasel of a man. He was also a paratrooper in WWII, remained human through the Night War, and is shockingly resourceful when backed into a corner (which is constantly).
  • Cute Monster Girl: Serendipity Sargasso, the siren secretary, is pretty darn cute. Assuming she doesn't smile.
  • Cute Witch: Hexene Candlemas is a subversion, what with her hex-dealing, habit of punctuating curses with obscene gestures, and saturnine toad familiar Escuerzo.
  • Defective Detective: Nick Moss isn't an impressive man.
  • Detective Animal: Lou Garou and Phil Moon, the wolfmen LAPD, and Sheriff Lobo Castle, the werewolf in the Sheriff's Department are a form of this.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Sam Haine, the pumpkinhead, really thinks Nick would be a good pumpkinhead. He's mostly nice, but some of his behavior is a little questionable, and he seems not to be clear on "no."
  • Everybody Smokes: Subverted with Nick's pathological inability to smoke.
  • Familiar: Every witch has one of these, from Hexene's toad Escuerzo to the songbirds of the Salem Sisters.
  • Fantastic Noir: City of Devils is a noir, with all the supporting characters being monsters from b-movies or legend.
  • Fantastic Racism: Humans are the downtrodden minority. Monsters call us "meatsticks."
  • Genre-Busting: It's a noir plot, there are monsters from horror fiction, it's urban and fantastic, and it's a comedy.
  • Femme Fatale: The doppelganger movie star, Imogen Verity, who hires Nick to find her missing husband. She tries to "seduce" Nick by turning him a couple of times.
  • Fog Feet: The ghost housekeeper Bloody Bridget has these.
  • Giant Mook: Ogres are often employed as security guards. They're twelve feet tall and can eat entire sides of beef like sandwiches.
  • Going by the Matchbook: Nick's earliest clue is a matchbook for an unknown club that turns out to be a seriously weird monster brothel.
  • Griping About Gremlins: The City of Devils Gremlins appear to be highly reminiscent of the film version, and are generally named for the shock of white hair on their bodies. One has giant white eyebrows (Brows), and the other has massive muttonchop sideburns (Chops). As a race, they're obsessed with candy, clever (if weird) inventors, and allergic to sunlight.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Lampshaded when Nick says, "That's what you get when you hire a human dick, ma'am."
  • Headless Horseman: Headless Horsemen are one of many monster kinds. They tend to work as drivers, either for taxis or limos.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Hexene Candlemas and Lily Salem are both redheads. Of course, they're also maidens in their respective witch covens. It's averted, since Nick doesn't get either one of them.
  • Hot Witch: The Salem Sisters are all extremely hot.
  • Hulk Speak: The meat golems communicate entirely in mostly monosyllabic, two-word sentences. "Fire bad" is a particular favorite.
  • I Hate You, Vampire Dad: Most monsters avert this, since the process of turning alters a person's mindset to suit whatever creature they become. Chops, who was a young girl when she was turned against her will, definitely plays the trope straight.
  • The Magnificent: Ogres use this trope when picking rebirth names: Kizok the Backbreaker, Ugoth the Castrator.
  • Meaningful Name: A central part of the novel is that, once turned into a monster, the new monster chooses a "rebirth name." These names are inevitably meaningful, or at least cool sounding. Many of the monsters have specific naming conventions: mummies tend to prefer things that sound Egyptian and dynastic (e.g. Juba II, the missing City Councilman), while ogres like barbarian titles (e.g. the security guard at Visionary Pictures, Ugoth the Castrator). Some names include: Imogen Verity (doppelganger), Hexene Candlemas (witch), Oculon (crawling eye), Lou Garou (wolfman), Cacophony Jones (phantom), Bloody Bridget (ghost).
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Nick is hired to find a missing mummy and discovers a ring of powerful monsters creating pornographic movies of them turning humans into monsters.
  • Mummy: Juba II, the missing man, is a mummy. He's also a city councilman. Mummies, in this world, are politicians.
  • Monster Mash: The book features vampires, zombies, banshees, goblins, witches, werewolves, gremlins, crawling eyes, meat golems, mummies, robots, doppelgangers, phantoms, ghosts, killer vegetables, ogres, sirens, gill men, bug-eyed monsters, and many, many more.
  • Mundane Solution: The various monsters all have relatively normal weaknesses and phobias that humans use to drive them away. Crawling eyes have a problem with sand, zombies with salt, werewolves with wolfsbane and silver, robots with Escher paintings, and so on.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: The book features both werewolves (turn into large wolves) and wolfmen (who look like Lon Chaney Jr.). Each side has a long-standing feud that manifests in their chosen career paths. Both do law-enforcement, but the werewolves work for the Sheriff's Department, while the wolfmen are regular cops.
  • Properly Paranoid: A necessary survival trait in the human community, given that monsters tend to see humans as little more than a means of reproduction. Even with laws protecting humans from being captured and turned during daylight hours, it's foolish to go outside without as many defenses as you can carry.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Mayor Oculon has... well, is a giant red eye. With tentacles.
  • Samus Is a Girl: For the majority of the novel, the gremlin known only as "Chops" due to its magnificent white muttonchop sideburns is assumed to be male. She is revealed as female when Nick finds the film depicting her being turned into a monster.
  • Sequel Hook: The end of the book has Nick's next case coming through the door: Hexene Candlemas, hiring him to find her missing familiar.
  • Sexy Secretary: Serendipity Sargasso. She's definitely cute, but when she smiles and shows off her huge mouthful of needle-sharp teeth, she becomes more scary than sexy.
  • Shot in the Ass: Nick Moss was shot in the ass during World War II.
  • Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: Hexene Candlemas, as the maiden in a witch coven, has red hair and green eyes.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Sam Haine the pumpkinhead visits Nick at his apartment most nights (driving from San Bernardino to Watts, which is a serious trip, especially in the days before freeways) and later follows Nick to the Bomb Shelter.
  • Tap on the Head: Nick punches out Largo (piano player of the phantom rock band The Disasters) and is later knocked out by lead singer Cacophony Jones. Neither one displays any ill effects, though, to be fair, Largo was already pretty stupid. Imogen Verity also conks Harley and Raven on the head (that would be drummer and bassist) of the same band. It was a bad day to be a Disaster.
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: Nick wakes up (after Cacophony knocks him out) in the back of the Bomb Shelter, a biker bar. This presumably happens earlier when Harley, drummer for the Disasters, wakes up in Imogen Verity's basement wondering why he's in a low-rent sarcophagus.