Review: Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

Posted by DarkChaplain at 7/30/2016
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.
A Lovecraft-inspired Noir detective story? Count me in!

The Story:
"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."


Disclaimer
I received an ARC of this novella from the publisher. Keep that in mind while reading the review.

The Review:
Hammers on Bone is a lovecraftian noir detective story set in present day London. It features a cocky detective, a somewhat creepy kid and eldritch horrors, so the premise alone was an exciting one to me. I am a massive admirer of H.P. Lovecraft's works, and will re-read various stories of his every so often, to the point of knowing many passages by heart. So of course I was going to read this novella.

First off, I very much enjoyed the first person narrative. Following John Persons, our detective and host to a cosmic horror. In fact, the otherworldly being is the dominant force in Person's body, with its original owner exerting minor influence. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't act, or at the very least speak, like its host might. The whole story is full of old-timey, noir-suitable terms and behaviors, and that made this novella highly appealing to me. The fact that other characters find it jarring due to the highly antiquated ways of Persons amused me, and turned the detective into a bit of an oddball character - odd, but competent.

The case itself starts with a kid attempting to hire the private investigator to kill his step-father.
What turns that from a ridiculous request into a proper job is that the boy seems aware of what's lurking below the surface of Person's outward appearance.

“Tell your mom to call child services. The bulls will have your old man dancing on air in no time.”
“I can’t.” He shakes his head, curt-like. “He did something to my mommy. And he’ll do something to the police, too. I know it. Please. You’re the only one who can help.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because you’re a monster too.”

We are treated to the protagonists thoughts all the way through, and some of them give insights into his true nature, or the threats and powers involved. These I enjoyed greatly, as he is quite a snarky bastard. Various Lovecraft reverences appear, as do original threads of cosmic horror and concepts unique to Hammers on Bone.

In a lot of places I felt that Khaw pulled it off well. It doesn't feel truly Lovecraftian to me, which is mostly down to the setting (which would have been fine being set a couple of decades earlier in my opinion) and the inkling of a romantic involvement between the protagonist and a waitress. I wasn't quite sure about an older being getting attracted like that, and it stripped away a lot of the bleakness for me. It returned later, with a vengeance, but for a while I wasn't sure where the story was headed with it all.

Sometimes I also felt unsure just how much of a threat the monstrous entity arrayed against Persons really was. He seemed powerful and intelligent, whereas the antagonist lacked subtlety.
I was happy to find that the subtleties ended up coming from a different angle, and that the whole case was still challenging and straining enough to excite.

Thankfully, the way it tied up was both exciting and illuminating, though a few threads were left dangling. I hope some of them will be picked up again in potential future stories, though part of the fun with cosmic horror stories is not getting all the answers and resolutions.
I certainly wouldn't mind reading a sequel or loosely-related story to see what else Khaw has up her sleeve when it comes to cosmic horror detective stories, however.

Hammers on Bone on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


The Reading Lamp

0 comments:

Leave a Reply

DarkChaplain's bookshelf: read

The Dragon Engine
Tomb Raider II #7
Star Wars #22
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Adaptation #3
Deathwatch: The Last Guardian
The Harrowing
Whacky
The Awakening
Blackshield
Poe Dameron #5


DarkChaplain's favorite books »