A Matter Of Blood (The Dog-Faced Gods book 1 of 3) by Sarah Pinborough (book review).

Cass realises that nothing was as it seemed. His family had all been keeping secrets and now it is vital that Cass uncovers them all. As the killings continue and his family mysteries deepen, everything seems to be leading Cass towards a confrontation with the notorious economic super-power, The Bank, and the elusive Mr. Bright.

Cass Jones is a world-weary detective, troubled by past acts and struggling to solve his current murder cases, the shooting of two boys and the serial killer targeting young women, leaving the message ‘nothing is sacred’. With his marriage falling apart and his brother constantly ringing to speak to him about ‘redemption’, Cass’ personal life is a disaster. However, when tragedy strikes close to home, his reality really starts to crumble.

‘A Matter Of Blood’ by Sarah Pinborough is a cross between crime and supernatural horror, taking a seemingly standard serial killer plot and twisting it into another dimension. It is the first in a trilogy of books by Pinborough, all featuring the police detective Cass Jones. Cass is your typically tired and cynical detective who is struggling to rid himself of the memories of acts he was forced to commit while on undercover assignment, something that is hinted at for a long time before the details are actually revealed. I won’t spoil it here, but I’d be quite confident in saying that the lack of subtlety in the hints makes it quite obvious before we’re told, so that the eventual reveal is quite anti-climactic. If you manage to connect with Cass as a character (I didn’t), then you’ll probably enjoy this book, but he certainly isn’t to everyone’s taste.


I’m not really sure what to make of ‘A Matter Of Blood’. I read a lot of crime novels and it didn’t quite satisfy in that part of the story thread. There were a few neat twists towards the end, but things seemed a bit too contrived, with not enough depth in the crime story to make me care about catching the killers. The same applies to the police characters. They’re a little two-dimensional with a lot of stereotypes: the innocent female PC, the gruff older detective, the charismatic outsider and the eager young recruit. It’s all passable as a crime story, just not exceptional. Perhaps my view is clouded by having read some truly excellent crime novels but this all felt a bit half-hearted.

However, the touches of supernatural horror were also so delicate that it also failed to satisfy in that regard. In fact, the whole supernatural part of it is really quite cryptic. Pinborough drops hints about Mr. Solomon and Mr. Bright, teases with a slight sheen of information about Cass’ family and mentions once or twice ‘The Glow’, but never fully develops any of the ideas. It feels more like the outline of a story in many ways and perhaps the kind of thing written for use on-screen where many of the lacking details can be filled in by visual elements. A quick look at Pinborough’s blog tells me that this series has in fact been optioned for a television series, where it would probably do quite well.

The setting is also somewhat odd, with vague references leading to the conclusion that it is set somewhere around 2015-2020. I had to go and look up the dates of the Harold Shipman murders to even begin to get a fix on this. This opens up a few nice little near future descriptions, certainly more dystopia than utopia, with the collapse of the economy, the resulting loss of basic NHS privileges and the domination by the privately owned finance company, The Bank, and yet I don’t think that enough was made of this, nor do I think that anything would be lost if the setting were present day.

I know it is only the first book in the series but so many questions I wanted to ask as early as the opening chapters were left unanswered that it’s hard to work up enthusiasm for the next two. However, I do want to see where she takes it next. It has set up a lot of little bits and pieces of story and setting that, despite finding this book a bit of a disappointment, I want to see resolved. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time I’ve changed my mind about a series part-way through. I’d like to see a little more depth on both sides of the story for supernatural and crime and hope that things develop much more clearly in the next books.

Vinca Russell

(pub: Gollancz. 356 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-08946-4)

check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk

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