A Matter of Blood is the first in Sarah Pinborough’s Forgotten Gods (or Dog-Faced Gods if you’re in the UK) horror/noir series. I have a soft spot for urban fantasy but am pretty particular about the quality of the material in that subgenre. While many books in the urban fantasy realm stick to the somewhat conventional realm of mystery A Matter of Blood mixes together the gritty world of noir with horrific dark fantasy to create a vivid world painted in shades of gray. A Matter of Blood takes place in a near-future London where the economy is in shambles, detectives work on bonuses for convictions, corruption is rife (to offset the fact that those bonus are tied up in an overtaxed court system), and the seemingly powerful Bank has its hands in everything. Detective Inspector Cass Jones is a jaded but surprisingly hard-working police officer ostracized by his peers due to an undercover job that went wrong. Cass is about as honest as a corrupt cop can get and throughout the novel seems compels to catch whoever is responsible even when easier targets could be made to take the fall.
A Matter of Blood is no lighthearted romp. Cass’ humor speeds past sarcasm straight into the realm of the sardonic. The future is a grim place and people go about their lives seemingly by rote with little or no hope for something better. At the start of the novel Cass’ case involves the accidental death of two little boys in a gangland hit gone wrong. However, it isn’t long before he is tasked to find out more information on serial killer known as the Man of Flies. The Man of Flies, after gruesomely murdering his victims, leaves trails of fly eggs along with the message of “Nothing is Sacred” on his victims. Pinborough has crafted a dark and dripping world and through the Man of Flies, and his pursuit, weaves in subtle elements of the supernatural. It quickly becomes apparent throughout A Matter of Blood that there are things, forces, in the shadows shaping and manipulating things.
Pinborough stays focused on the mystery however. As cynical as Cass is he is dedicated to providing a voice to the voiceless and is willing to provide a dogged, if not always particularly kosher, pursuit of the truth no matter the personal cost. Cass, like the reader, is very much in the dark regarding the supernatural elements at play and is only slowly exposed to the various elements at play. However, that exposure is layered in half-discovered truths and further obscured by the human mind’s ability to accept the simplest most obvious answer. While by the end of the novel the reader is more aware than Cass at the level of forces at play in the world we remain more or less in the dark about the nature of those power. While this could frustrate some I found Pinborough’s unwillingness to explain the details of her supernatural rather refreshing and one of the novel’s greatest strengths. Pinborough teases and tantalizes with her tidbits about the hidden world at play just beyond the surface, not enough to drive one made but just enough to make you desperately want more and simultaneously afraid to find out the truth.
A Matter of Blood is one of the most refreshing and original titles I’ve read in quite a while. It feels blessedly free of many of the cliche’s found in the urban fantasy subgenre; a fact tied to the author’s roots in horror. In truth it might be more accurate to simply call this urban horror. Pinborough has crafted a stark and fascinating world with a wealth of hidden undercurrents which, for the most part, she manages to simultaneously reveal and keep mysterious. I’m definitely looking forward to the rest of the books in this series (I’ve already read the second book). A Matter of Blood is highly recommended for fans of horror and dark fantasy.