The Devil’s Dice by Roz Watkins

devils diceA new author and a Derbyshire setting to a crime mystery novel – it’s a book I really wanted to like, and at first I did.

This book may be the first in my recent venture into crime novels that has been written in the first person.

I think this allowed Watkins to write with more humour than has been evident in  a lot of the other crime fiction I’ve read, Her protagonist, DI Meg Dalton at times expresses a mildly self-deprecating view of her circumstances.

I hoped he wasn’t going to come over all patronising on me. I wasn’t even blonde anymore – I’d dyed my hair a more intelligent shade of brown, matched  to my mum’s for authenticity

I also liked Watkins’ descriptive skill.

An elderly dog lay in the corner draped over the side of his basket like one of Dali’s soft clocks.

However despite wanting to love this book, and the early fulfilment of that desire with writing like the above quotes, I found a bad taste became more and more evident the further into the book I read; all due to an increasing anti-religious, anti-God sentiment that started to pervade the story.

Here is one example:

“If I thought someone had created this world deliberately, I don’t think I could live with my fury. So, no. No benevolent gods in my construction of reality.”

This sentiment, which echoes attitudes I’ve read from Stephen Fry, is only part of the ongoing, cumulatively negative portrayal of religion and God that eventually led to some unfortunate, raving, religious nuttery from one character.

For me that unavoidable aspect of the book spoiled an intriguing story that starts with the death of a man in a small cave. Beside his body a Victorian era carving of the grim reaper and the dead man’s initials are found. Was it murder or suicide? And how could the century old carvings seemingly predict his death in that place?

The story includes good use of landscape, one of the elements that drew me to certain crime fiction writing in the first place. Like Stephen Booth’s One Last Breath, Watkins takes the reader underground through claustrophobic cave systems, bringing back memories of other stories I’ve read at different times in my life* and adding to my determination to never try caving as a hobby.

Watkins also looks at some serious social issues relating to genetics, terminal illness, euthanasia and the sacredness (or not) of life, very emotive issues that don’t always have clear cut simple answers; but it is through raising those issues that the author jumps feet first onto the anti-religious path mentioned earlier. I continued reading with the hope that she would also bring a more reasoned consideration of  religious adherence, but right to the end, and particularly at the books climax, religious observance and belief in God is portrayed in extremely negative terms, and tantamount to being the cause of humanity’s ethical dilemmas, holding mankind back from more caring and “progressive” ways.

…if religious folk don’t want to take advantage of euthanasia for themselves, that’s fine… But why should they stop others based on their beliefs? They can believe in Santa Claus if they want, but don’t use it as a reason to torture people

At the end of the book there are two sample chapters of a follow up, Dead Man’s Daughter. They seem to promise more of the better aspects of The Devil’s Dice and I’ll probably give it a go when it’s published, with the hope that Watkins doesn’t take the same kind of route in her second book as she did in her debut.


* Particularly one of Alan Garner’s early books (The Weirdstone of Brisingamen or The Moon of Gomrath) and Marc Chadbourn’s Underground. The latter being set in the coal mines of my childhood home region.




11 thoughts on “The Devil’s Dice by Roz Watkins

  1. It is a bit incisive to say they can believe in Santa Claus but should not use that freedom as a reason to torture. We really do see religious people fight about who Santa Claus should be and why America or the West is tops. On the other hand, there are non-religious people who like Santa Claus and Christmas and shopping (but that’s not really an excuse for religious people on Santa Claus doctrine). Yet, I can see that the writing likely headed places that would turn my stomach too. For instance, “take advantage of euthanasia…”

    1. The reference to Santa Claus in that quote from the book was essentially comparing belief in God to belief in the fictional Christmas character.
      Basically suggesting that God believers are naïve and childish – not as informed and mature as those who recognise God as yet another manmade myth.

      1. Sadly, I think many people accomplish sort of an equivalence on God and Santa Clause, with Santa being the kids’ version. You get what you want (at least some of what you want) from Santa if you believe in him (and there is a lot of effort that goes into brainwashing the children — and anger toward anyone who blows the secret). And then you’re supposed to grow up and transfer that belief into true religion — health-n-wealth [not true].

    2. For instance, “take advantage of euthanasia…”

      One of the more astute observations in the book comes from a character disabled from birth, who commenting on both abortion and euthanasia, notes that the former would have ensured she had never been born, and regarding the latter, some would see her as a prime candidate for euthanasia to stop her from being (or becoming) a burden to others and society.

      While euthanasia may at first be about the terminally ill willingly putting an end to their own suffering, its only a step or two away from other categories being added to the list of candidates (disabled, mentally ill, the elderly…)

  2. Wow. I just realized that in skimming previously I sort of misread the part about torture… or my mind just didn’t go to what was meant because I don’t think that way. I was thinking about excuses for going to war, and it’s been in the news that a woman who oversaw torture and destroyed evidence of it has been nominated to head the CIA.

    I apologize for any conveyance of something I didn’t mean. And to think: I was going to say I don’t feel like I would want to write a book like this even if I intended to get around to reforming the person’s thoughts in the story in a later book. Good thing I was “going to say” something, so I reread what you had shared about the book. Whew. Sorry.

    1. That reference to torture was primarily accusing those against euthanasia (the religious) of torturing people through ensuring the continuation of suffering.

      On a side note, today a 104 year old Australian doctor is scheduled to be euthanised in Switzerland – merely because of his age. He chose to travel there to end his life because it would be illegal in Australia. He isn’t terminally ill and he isn’t suffering pain.

      Slippery slopes begin here…

      1. That reference to torture was primarily accusing those against euthanasia (the religious) of torturing people through ensuring the continuation of suffering.

        I finally figured that out. Yeah.

        … today a 104 year old Australian doctor is scheduled to be euthanised in Switzerland – merely because of his age.

        That’s sad.

  3. Want to mention that the way [due to quick scanning] I misunderstood, at first, and the correct understanding have come together in a real-life current event. A senator, diplomat, veteran, and survivor of torture, John McCain, said again that he is against torture (and doesn’t see the nominee to head the CIA as a good choice even if a capable person). Someone in the White House said it doesn’t matter because “he’s dying anyway.”

    Further, although I was going to ignore the use of the word progressive by the author of “The Devil’s Dice” and remain positive about the book, we can see that it is fairly pointless — if the set of books is aiming to get around to being pro-religion and anti-euthanasia — to boil it down to a left-right divide. The right has been distancing itself from McCain and sensible Republicans for a while. A disgraceful lie was told too, about McCain on FOX.

    The host had been stunned silent, perhaps? The lie was that McCain succumbed to torture and was a songbird. At least the host of the particular show the guest speaking that way was on repudiated the lack of concern for truth, decency, love of a fellow human in difficulty, respect for veterans, etc. (while I don’t know quite what the host said) on the following day. And that specific liar’s stint on the channel promoting torture has been ended.

    Of course the significance of calling suffering before death or in old age a torture inflicted by whoever wouldn’t allow intentional termination of a life is based on having some sense that torture is bad, and a sense of the once nearly unanimous view of that value in our culture; the author’s formulation of a character who would say what was said finds any shred of credibility in knowing. It’s not progressives who’ve pushed the other way.

    1. The use of the word “progressive” was mine – I put it in “” because the term is often applied to ideas and situations that in my opinion are actually regressive; the approval of euthanasia being one example, or the approval of abortion in non-life threatening situations. Rather than being progressive, support of those practices is probably more about convenience than anything else; removing the presence of a life that will require personal a commitment if allowed to continue.

  4. I agree that euthanasia shouldn’t be considered progressive. I would recommend not associating that “issue” with progressives though. And I think it’s good that John McCain’s older daughter, Meghan, responded (to a Republican and a White House with the main office holder who has been crude about McCain in rough circumstances before), countering, “we’re all dying,” and that how you live matters. Thank you for the clarification of what you were saying (and that the author didn’t use the word progressive). I hope that the author is going to pull different thoughts together in subsequent books to make more sense than our current culture often does. I’m thinking there’s a chance she will, particularly since she’s not American or from the U.S.

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