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Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: March 2004
ISBN: 074323975X
Awards:   Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award
Format Reviewed: Trade Paperback
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Genre: Historical Crime [1517, Mexico] 
Reviewed: 2004
Reviewer: Rachel A Hyde
Reviewer Notes:  Violence and human sacrifice

Demon of the Air
By Simon Levack

     Novels about the Aztecs don’t come along very often, and when they do they always seem to be about their conquest. At last here is a book where they are allowed to exist in their own right (and in all their bloodstained, feather-bedecked glory) with only the merest sniff of a conquistador on the far horizon. It is a mystery to boot, so definitely scores high for originality. What is it about? In a way this is almost immaterial due to its uniqueness, but it actually boasts an impressive story as well. Yaotl was once a priest, but now he is a slave to the Chief Minister. When a sacrifice goes wildly wrong and the victim jumps to his death instead while uttering prophecies, Montezuma himself wants some answers. The unfortunate Yaotl is picked as the man to provide them, and this sets him off on a tortuous chase to find out how five sorcerers escaped from the prison, the identity of the mysterious white strangers and the reason for the sacrifice’s behavior. He is going to have his work cut out for him…

     Pre-Colombian Mexico springs to vivid life in this remarkable novel, and the Aztecs are presented as a fascinating mixture of humanity and bloodlust, artistry and barbarism. Having Yaotl tell the tale in his own words wisely adds an immediacy that the story truly needs in order to ground it somewhat and take away some of the sheer strangeness of such an alien culture. The plot is enjoyably complex and gives another dimension to an already compelling book. I do hope this will be the first of a new series, and it is not hard to see why it won the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award. Miss it at your peril!