Hammers on Bone
What do you get if you toss hard-boiled detective fiction and lore of the Great Old Ones into a blender? The answer is Cassandra Khaw’s Lovecraftian noir Hammers on Bone. When John Persons is approached by a kid who wants to hire him to kill his stepfather, the PI is all set to turn him away. But when the kid says his stepdad is a monster and he and his little brother are dead if Persons doesn’t help, a little voice inside says Persons should take notice. Digging deeper reveals some nasty truths about McKinsey and a disease spreading inexorably through London. Can our hard-as-nails PI save these kids before it’s too late?
Persons is a quintessential anti-hero, if ever I saw one. Far from being altruistic, he’s in the game for the money. For, you see, Persons isn’t quite like us. He may look human, but there is more monster than man. He doesn’t think like a human, though he did a marvelous job of blending. He may be a monster, but there are worse things out there. Far worse.
Woven into this noir novella is a social commentary on domestic abuse and child abuse. It’s a lesson that there are plenty of monsters wearing human skin that we need to worry about in our own society as well as a subtle chastisement. There are several times violence is displayed outright and bystanders ignore it. Other times, Khaw shows just how cowed such abuse makes a person, making the abused reluctant or unable to ask for help. If you see this kind of abuse around you, don’t turn away and ignore it. Help as much as you can. You may just be responsible for saving a life.
Okay, so, truth time–I had a straight up “Gaaahhhh”-dancing-around-freaked-out moment. There was some eye-popping going on. Eye trauma freaks me the frick out! Perhaps a little too visceral with the description there. Missing one of my own eyes has heightened my sense of eye protectiveness.
I’m not usually a big noir fan. I prefer mysteries a la Sherlock Holmes. I was hooked by the Lovecraftian aspect, for that I do love, and I found myself liking Persons more and more. This story is well-written, a novella trimmed and lean, without sacrificing storyline. This was my first experience with Khaw’s work, and I enjoyed it so much that I snagged a few of her other works. I look forward to the next in the Persons Non Grata series, even if accounts of eye trauma did freak me out a bit.
Recommended for those who like sci-fi/fantasy, Lovecraftian lore, and hard-boiled detective fiction.