“John Persons is a private investigator with a distasteful job from an unlikely client. He’s been hired by a ten-year-old to kill the kid’s stepdad, McKinsey. The man in question is abusive, abrasive, and abominable.
He’s also a monster, which makes Persons the perfect thing to hunt him. Over the course of his ancient, arcane existence, he’s hunted gods and demons, and broken them in his teeth.
As Persons investigates the horrible McKinsey, he realizes that he carries something far darker than the expected social evils. He’s infected with an alien presence, and he’s spreading that monstrosity far and wide. Luckily Persons is no stranger to the occult, being an ancient and magical intelligence himself. The question is whether the private dick can take down the abusive stepdad without releasing the holds on his own horrifying potential.” (via Goodreads)
It’s been a while since I read a good, dark urban fantasy, and I’m glad Hammers on Bone was what brought me back. Cassandra Khaw’s novella is a sharp, ominous piece of work, a bloody mix of urban fantasy mystery and Lovecraftian horror. Our protagonist is John Persons, an ancient monster crammed into the physical body of a man who is, at present, working as a detective in London. When a young boy turns up at his doorstep looking to hire John to kill his stepfather. As John digs deeper into the case, he realizes there’s something vile infesting the boy’s house…and this terrible thing is beginning to spread.
But this is no straightforward urban fantasy detective story. Khaw forms her tale around the bones of domestic violence and the revolutionary act of a victim taking back control. The boy, Abel, his younger brother, and his mother are being abused by their stepfather, a despicable man who views his family as his property. Abel goes to John looking for a way out. John is only a tool for Abel; the boy knows what he wants and knows how to get it even if he can’t physically do it himself. Which is why John is perfect for this case. Only a monster can destroy another monster, and John is about as monstrous as it gets.
It twists and turns, zigs and zags, all in 112 pages. John narrates his experiences with a Dashiell Hammett flair, a style wholly at odds with his contemporary London surroundings. He betrays and is betrayed, lies and is lied to, manipulates and is manipulated. Khaw takes the greatest bits of Lovecraft, ditches all the gross racism and sexism, and piles on social commentary, quick wit, and dark humor. Hammers on Bone is chilling and disturbing in the best possible way, and begs to be read in one sitting.
The flame shimmers blue and oily, oozing over my knuckles, before I dismiss it with another snap. The map’s not done transforming yet. I breathe out smoke rings as it continues to change, darkening to pus, to abattoir colors teeming with rot and warning. I was wrong. There isn’t just one kid to save. There’s an entire city waiting to be pulled out of the fire.
I drum my fingers against the desk. I hate being wrong.
The blood begins to congeal, hardening into reams of rusty cornelian. A good man would have started planning for a counterassault, a one-person crusade against the encroaching dark. That man wouldn’t be me. I do what I’m paid to do, and no one’s cut me a check to save the Big Smoke.
Thanks to Tor.com Publishing for sending me a review copy.
Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or get it from your public library.