A Matter of Blood is the first installment in Sarah Pinborough’s Dog-Faced Gods trilogy, a heart-pounding mix of horror and crime fiction, with a dash of good old speculative fiction thrown in. Cass Jones is a bitter Detective Investigator for the London police force, where every officer quietly takes kickbacks from the local mobsters as a matter of course. Cass’s marriage is falling apart, he’s haunted by a nasty history, and he’s got a bit of a drug habit—and right now he’s also desperately overworked by two violent case loads that aren’t adding up. The only thing that is adding up is the vast amounts of money held by The Bank, a seemingly omniscient corporation founded a few years ago by faceless billionaires in order to rescue the global economy from a recession. And now, for some reason, The Bank is interested in Cass.
Cass Jones, the Detective Inspector
Cass Jones is perfect. Not in the sense of a perfect man—no, he’s nowhere near perfect as a man—but he is definitely a perfect character. His flaws range from adultery to unkindness to murder, and while normally that would make for a grim protagonist to follow, Pinborough manages to transform Cass from a ruthless pig to a guilt-ridden, flawed, and sympathetic human. Cass has made some bad choices in his past and he makes some bad choices in A Matter of Blood, but the choices are always understandable. Sometimes his memories are painful to read, but that’s only because Cass’s own pain feels real.
The secondary characters are excellent, as well. Dr. Hask, the criminal psychologist, only makes an appearance a couple times in the novel, but his voice is cool and intelligent, and I hope we hear more from him in the next two books. Bright has the same cunning malevolence as Neil Gaiman’s Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar in Neverwhere. Cass’s sergeant, Claire, verges on annoying with her chirpy optimism, but the tense relationship she has with Cass makes her worth reading about.
Creepy and thrilling
A Matter of Blood lurks on the edge of horror while delivering the same heart-pounding suspense as a thriller. Some chapters, particularly the ones about The Bank, reminded me of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series. The supernatural elements are really, really creepy, and Pinborough sent shivers down my spine without even resorting to gore (although she includes that, too). Pinborough’s writing is lean, and thankfully, she doesn’t offer too many details on Cass’s dystopian world beyond the necessities; the dark atmosphere is all you need to understand the setting. The police work all struck me as believable without being dry, and the corruption in the force turns what could have been another typical crime thriller into something truly desolate and gripping.
A slow start
A Matter of Blood’s major flaw is its slow start. Pinborough strategically shifts viewpoints throughout the novel, and though most of the time that works, the beginning of the book focuses all too much on the finality of death and the philosophical musings of a psychotic serial killer. I wasn’t really immersed in the plot until after the first thirty or fifty pages; up until then, Cass Jones just seems like a sad and desperate copper. Once his cases start developing, though, the story really gets going. By the second half of the book, I could hardly put it down.
Why should you read this book?
This is no airy fantasy. In fact, it’s hardly even science fiction, since the novel’s only set a few years after 2010. But this dystopian page-turner brings together the best of suspense thrillers, horror, and police procedural. In A Matter of Blood, the supernatural elements remain comparably subtle, but it’s clear that in the next two books of the trilogy, those elements will come to the forefront. This is a departure from my usual reads, but I can’t wait for Pinborough’s next installment!