A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough

I’ve had a fairly unsuccessful year in terms of exploring the boundaries of the genres I love to read. And so I came to another author I haven’t read, Sarah Pinborough. A Matter of Blood looks like a crime thriller and for the most part, reads like one too. I don’t like crime. I’m not interested in working out who did it and how. I’m not bothered about how clever the criminal is, or the detective is. I don’t want to spend 400 pages waiting for the big reveal and all the loose ends to be tied up. I want to either be entertained by what I read, while learning a different perspective about the world we live in and the people we are.

So why did I pick up this crime novel? Well, it is part of something called the Dog-Faced God series and was recommended by SFX. Pinborough is known for supernatural and young adult fantasy. I was curious. A Matter of Blood is the story of dodgy DI Cass Jones who is working on two apparently disparate murders. The introduction to the novel gives them impression that the killer in one of the crimes is a little out of the ordinary, even for a murderer. And then for the first part of the book, this does indeed read like a generic procedural crime novel, with conflict in the police station, profilers and coroners helping with the case, more darkness revealed about out protagonist, and to be honest I was getting a little bored. Don’t get me wrong, it is very well written with interesting character development. It was very readable, and this and a desire to know more about Cass, are probably the only things that kept me going. I was reading it, however, in the hope that it would become something else. I’m not sure what I thought while reading it, but I was expecting more fantasy, more magic.

What A Matter of Blood actually is though, is a lot of things. It is science fiction in the sense that it is set in the (very) near future. There is no actual SF element explored in the narrative in the true sense of the genre. The world is not the one we live in, but one that could develop from the financial crisis which began in 2007. It is an interesting and valid future. The novel is a ghost story. Or is it? Sure, Cass sees and interacts with the ghost of his dead brother, but it might be in his head, and it’s not meant to be a scary interaction. It is a horror novel, but only in the sense that the murders are horrific. It’s not a novel designed to scare, but to look into some very dark places. Which is does. It is urban fantasy. It is set in a city and there are glimpses of magic and there are hints that the bad guys are not human.

I mentioned darkness, and A Matter of Blood is very dark. After the first hundred pages or so, the darkness started to drag me into it. The story was still a basic crime plot – who murdered these people? Who murdered these other people? Who framed the cop, who is this guy, what is her role in it? However, the exploration into the lives of the characters is fascinating and the hints into magic and horror are so skilfully woven into the story that I felt like I was being dragged under a steamroller. Perversely, the more I read, the more I enjoyed being dragged along by it. The conclusion annoyed me a tad, as all ‘human’ threads were tied up nicely, but the urban fantasy elements are left open to interpretation and the next book in the series. I would have preferred more ambiguity overall.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the Dog-Faced Gods series. Pinborough has crafted interesting characters and an intriguing world. The books won’t get me into crime, but I think I might be more inclined to flirt with the edges of my comfort zone.

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