This is one of those reviews where I have to be careful of hyperbole. Each year I read a novel by an author I have never read before that knocks my socks off. This novel was the 2012 entry and thankfully there are two more books in this trilogy. This British import is trying to find a north American publisher and there are rumors that Penguin is releasing them under the title Forgotten Gods. Personally if you like original horror and speculative fiction specifically Dystopias, serial killer novels and all around Crime novels don’t wait for them to get their act together order this on the internet.
I discovered this novel from an article about the ending of the trilogy in Rue Morgue magazine. The plot sounded interesting but I admit it was the author mentioning that the trilogy had a champion in F.Paul Wilson that got my attention. I have four books into the Repairman Jacks books as Pinborough pointed out that Wilson was not only an influence but he was a fan helping to get the books published. What interested me is the dark dystopic environment that this brutal sounding crime novel was set in.
Rue morgue described the trilogy as an apocalyptic murder mystery, but having now read the book I felt the first book was light on apocalypse but heavy on dystopia. Not to worry end-of –the-World novel fans, the undoing of the world gets a strong foundation in this dark brutal hard boiled supernatural crime novel. It is an understatement to say that darker days are coming. This is the story of Detective inspector Cass Jones, who is hiding a drug habit and depression after he returns to the work in wake of an undercover assignment gone horribly wrong. His life is rough, hated by criminals and distrusted by the authorities. Not your typical heroic cop character, he is knee deep in a murder investigation of two kids who were gunned down in the street and attracting intense media coverage.
When one of his co-workers gets ill, he has to take over the investigation of a series of brutal murders. The crime scenes are well staged but also covered in an unnatural amount of flies. The killer refers to himself as the man of flies, and managed to somehow implant eggs of maggots under the eyelids of the victims without damaging their eyes.
All this before Cass finds out his brother has killed himself and his family. When Cass is framed for the murder of his brother, he begins to suspect the cases are connected.
How does this relate to the end of the world? Well, this novel is set in very dark times a very near future dystopia of future Britain that survives an economic collapse by surrendering to a mysterious cabal known as “The Bank.” The atmosphere of the novel has a dark surreal feel, I pictured everything with a grey filter that made Oregon winters seem like southern California. I also have the feeling that this first novel was meant to establish the characters while the next two will deal with grander issues.
Like Wilson’s Repairman Jack series I would define this novel as horror , but also as Weird Crime. That is not the only comparison I think is valid to Wilson’s Jack series. Like that series this has intricately woven plot, but it also has a much darker tone.
The tone makes all the difference in this novel, I mean for one thing Repairman Jack is a hero we can root for. The world that Pinborough has created here is filled with very dark shades of grey with almost zero characters worth rooting for. Oh you’ll be interested in them; you’ll want to keep turning pages.
On top of all those elements this novel also has a powerful plot line about a serial killer, including one of the creepiest serial killers I have read about since Brite’s Exquisite Corpse, but at the same time were talking about a novel with a subtle social conscience.
It is one of those novels that dragged me in quickly through the pages, creating dark moment of suspense that were so powerful I wanted to jump in the book and warn characters. There were several moments that made me uncomfortable enough that as a horror author myself I dog eared the pages so I could go back at marvel at how she created such gnarly atmospheric moments.
I can’t spoil it, but the Man of Flies has a moment early with a homeless boy and his dog that was gut-wrenching and awful. I loved it! Cass had a moment where he thought he saw the ghostly imagine of his dead brother, nothing ended up being there but Pinborough did such a wonderful job that I felt his very natural fear at thinking he had just seen his dead friend. Prime examples of master level horror writing by an author I somehow never read before.
Am I sold on Pinborough or the series? Of course I am sold on both. Is this the best novel I have read all year. No, probably not the best but I am sure it is my favorite. What are you waiting for?