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A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough

Once again I’ve have managed to coax another review out of that marvellous fellow @SamaelTB,  which is not as easy as you might think. This time out he casts his beady eye over A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough. As ever a big thanks goes to Sam for his efforts.

The recession that grips the world has left it exhausted. Crime is rising in every major city. Financial institutions across the world have collapsed, and most governments are now in debt to The Bank, a company created by the world’s wealthiest men. But Detective Inspector Cass Jones has enough on his plate without worrying about the world at large. His marriage is crumbling, he’s haunted by the deeds of his past, and he’s got the high-profile shooting of two schoolboys to solve – not to mention tracking down a serial killer who calls himself the Man of Flies. Then Cass Jones’ personal world is thrown into disarray when his brother shoots his own wife and child before committing suicide – leaving Cass implicated in their deaths. And when he starts seeing silent visions of his dead brother, it’s time for the suspended DI to go on the hunt himself – only to discover that all three cases are linked . . . As Jones is forced to examine his own family history, three questions keep reappearing: what disturbed his brother so badly in his final few weeks? Who are the shadowy people behind The Bank? And, most importantly, what do they want with DI Cass Jones?

Okay, yes, everyone seems to know of Sarah Pinborough: She of the foul mouthed raffle hosting talent and the often hilarious Twitter feed, but that’s all irrelevant here. She also writes books and damned good ones at that.

I first encountered her writing in Myth Understandings, an anthology of female authors published by NewCon Press. Her fresh take on the monster in the closet story and excellent prose had me hooked. A Matter of Blood is her debut crime (okay, sort of, but we’ll get to that) novel and while it’s definitely the first in a series, with all the unanswered questions that come part and parcel of such things, it really is very good fun (in a creepy, rather bloody, OMG-that’s-horrific kind of way).

There’s a lot here. There’s a lot to take in. The story is layer upon horrible layer. In a lesser hand this could all have come apart, but in this case it all hangs together. It’s a great read.

Cass is a bit of an egocentric bastard really. He acknowledges his problems; a tendency to cheat on his wife, selfishness, drugs, booze, the list goes on. The fact that he spends the majority of the book feeling wretched about himself kind of balances this out. Add in his wry humour and determination to be a good policeman and he swings into likable territory. His relationships (mostly crumbling) with his wife, colleagues and the rest of the supporting cast all feel authentic. This is another of those books where the criminals have a tendency to come across as more honourable than the police, you know… if you ignore all that crime. There are no weak characters in this book, at least not in the way they read. Everyone has their demons and these inform their actions in such a way that I found it very difficult to predict the last few twists. Enter a pair of potential supernaturals and a ghost (or is it), and you have a really interesting mix.

You may have spotted that there’s a fair bit of genre mashing going on. The cover says it all. The sub-title ‘Dog-Faced Gods Book One’ is straight out of a fantasy novel. The pinned fly and the tagline, ‘The man of flies is among us,’ on the cover yell horror. Despite this, the book is shelved in the crime section. Well played marketing people! Well played indeed.

With The Bank, the NHS restrictions, strain II (AIDS+), the world is coming apart. We don’t get to see a whole lot of this though as the majority of the book is police procedural. I think Sleepless by Charlie Huston did better job of creating a world on the edge. The world of the Dog-Faced Gods is pretty much the same as ours. Rather than the gritty realism of Huston’s world we’re left with an almost comic book rendering of the future.  A company named The Bank just doesn’t seem as realistic, or sinister, as something named after a bunch of rich folks.

I really don’t enjoy cliff-hangers and as I hurtled towards the end I grew more and more worried about what I’d find on that final line. Suffice to say, there’s nothing to worry about. The arc of the narrative is complete with most major plotlines concluded and the chains of information all hold together, even if some of them do stretch into a future that lies beyond the end of this book.

The only bit that doesn’t sit quite right is when Cass tries to break into a highly secure location. He’s a smart guy and I really think he’d have thought this through better. His admonishments of himself for his idiocy feel like over-egging and the whole section felt a tad contrived.

This book features some truly horrific scenes and some truly horrific situations. The further you get through the book, the more you feel that everything is being manipulated from some powerful background entity. The author’s ability to keep her characters grounded, despite all the bizarre stuff going on around them, means the book never wanders off into the truly fantastic. An example of this is the way the Dog-Faced Gods are mentioned once in this book (and not in the way you’d expect).

On the whole this book was very readable and, despite a few niggles, I thoroughly enjoyed it and flew through the final third in a single evening.

Since beginning this review (yes I’m tardy at times) I’ve read sequel, The Shadow of the Soul, and I can whole-heartedly state that the series continues to be great! I’d recommend this series to anyone who likes their fiction horrible with a healthy dose of the bleak.

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