Sarah Pinborough makes it clear from the first page of her prologue in A Matter of Blood that we’ll be seeing plenty of blood — and worse. The novel opens on the scene of a corpse squirming with maggots. An unnamed man stands in the doorway and declares that “This has to stop,” but the noise of the flies only grows louder. It seems, though, that the man is talking to someone — not to the corpse, not to himself, not even to the flies, though maybe he is speaking to someone through the flies. And maybe, we think, we’re on to something with that last thought, because as the speaker continues, the flies gather together and form into a shape that is nearly human.
It’s the last glimpse of the supernatural we get for a long time, though. Instead, Pinborough’s novel reads like a sharp, nicely detailed police procedural for most of its first half. The protagonist is Detective Inspector Cass Jones, who works in the Paddington Green precinct of a near-future London (as of the time the book was published) subtly different from the one in the real world. Cass is finely drawn: he is exceptionally smart, but has a strong tendency to self-defeating behavior, including ugly fights with a wife he loves, affairs with the wrong women, too many cigarettes and the occasional use cocaine. He has high friends in low places, but that’s not the reason most of his fellow officers despise him; he ran into some trouble while undercover a few years earlier, and some think he got off too easy. It seems that only his sergeant, Claire May, has any regard for him. Partly that’s because he’s good at what he does, and a good boss besides; partly it’s because they have a brief physical and emotional relationship in their recent past.
Cass has been assigned to the latest serial-killer murder; this is the fourth victim in two months. “Nothing is sacred,” say the words written on the latest female corpse in her own blood. He’s also working on the murder of two young boys who were the victims of a drive-by shooting, while the apparent intended victim of the shooting, another criminal, walked away. The cases are sufficiently all-consuming, but when a personal tragedy intervenes, Cass comes close to being overwhelmed. And even then, there is more real-world horror to be heaped on Cass’s head. It seems it’s never so bad that it can’t get worse, and worse keeps coming.
About midway through the book, though, Pinborough begins to make explicit what she has merely been hinting at thus far, and the supernatural takes a role in the events swirling about Cass. The doings of his brother’s employer, known merely as “The Bank,” begin to seem more far-reaching than the public realizes, and we wonder who is running the world that Pinborough has created. Pinborough subtly injects the supernatural into her tale as merely one more element in a straightforward mystery, so that the reader is hip deep in alligators before she even knows she’s walked into a swamp.
As a longtime mystery reader, especially one with a love for English mysteries, I was entranced by this novel from the outset. As a longtime horror reader, I quickly recognized that Pinborough was dealing with horrors worse than those humans inflict on one another. Pinborough skillfully deploys the science fictional elements of the near-future effects of the 2008 Great Recession with the police procedural set in the nitty gritty world of police work with the horrors that can only be wreaked by ancient gods fighting one another, and the forces of entropy, for their very survival.
A Matter of Blood is the first in the FORGOTTEN GODS trilogy. It is, however, largely self-contained. You won’t find any explicit cliffhangers here, and Pinborough gives us solutions to the major crimes Jones is investigating in this novel. Still, threads are left hanging — a sufficient number of them to lead a reader to grab the second book in the trilogy as soon as she closes the covers on this first one. Turn off the phone, lock the doors, leave the lights on, and read; once Pinborough captures you, you are enthralled to the end.
Forgotten Gods — (2010-2012) Publisher: The recession that grips the world has left it exhausted. Crime is rising in every major city. Financial institutions across the world have collapsed, and most governments are now in debt to The Bank, a company created by the world’s wealthiest men. But Detective Inspector Cass Jones has enough on his plate without worrying about the world at large. His marriage is crumbling, he’s haunted by the deeds of his past, and he’s got the high-profile shooting of two schoolboys to solve — not to mention tracking down a serial killer who calls himself the Man of Flies. Then Cass Jones’ personal world is thrown into disarray when his brother shoots his own wife and child before committing suicide — leaving Cass implicated in their deaths. And when he starts seeing silent visions of his dead brother, it’s time for the suspended DI to go on the hunt himself — only to discover that all three cases are linked… As Jones is forced to examine his own family history, three questions keep reappearing: what disturbed his brother so badly in his final few weeks? Who are the shadowy people behind The Bank? And, most importantly, what do they want with DI Cass Jones?