Sarah Pinborough is my Mistress now

Mixing genres can be a really tricky thing. Ideas that looks pretty superb on paper can quite often end up being total rubbish when completed; none more so, for me, than combining a Cop Thriller with the Supernatural. It’s all about the balance, getting the right amount of ‘pure’ thriller mixed in with the right amount of supernatural-elements you want without pushing it too far one way or the other and losing readers who might be drawn more to one element than the other. Of course, it’s easier when you have a trilogy to play with. That way you can change your balance, introduce the supernatural steadily and stealthily over your three books. That’s exactly what Sarah Pinborough has done, brilliantly I might add, with her Dog-Faced Gods trilogy (A Matter of Blood, The Shadow of the Soul, and The Chosen Seed). It works in every way imaginable.

The first book, A Matter of Blood introduces us to a near future London. The Global recession has caused huge changes in our social structure as well as to employment – for those people lucky enough to still have jobs. In this new London policemen get bonuses for arrests which go through to convictions . . . and they also get bribes from the criminal fraternity to turn a blind eye. One such policeman is Detective Cassius ‘Cass’ Jones, who takes his bribes and seems to be as corrupt as everyone else. He’s working two cases when we meet him: the murder of two teenage boys in a gangland hit; and the pursuit of a serial killer called ‘The Man of Flies’. His calling card: leaving the message ‘Nothing is Sacred’ on his victim’s bodies. But Cass might not have a chance to investigate; his younger brother murders his family before committing suicide, and Cass finds himself implicated in the crime . . .

From this starting point Pinborough crafts a truly exceptional thriller, keeping it gruesome but never gory and leaving more – to chilling effect – to the imagination than some crime authors would do. The story slowly gathers pace and builds up the clues, never rushing things as the mystery unravels and adding in, here and there, a subtle supernatural element, which starts very much in the background but – by the climax of A Matter of Blood – it is increasingly relevant to what is happening and to past events. This gradual increase in spookiness continues in book two, The Shadow of the Soul, as the supernatural element comes to play a far greater role without ever overshadowing the gripping thriller plot, which steps up in pace and offers a fabulous, intriguing story. When we reach the third book, The Chosen Seed, the supernatural aspect is beautifully – and almost equally – balanced with a stunning thriller narrative that grabs you from the first page and blasts you through all the way to the explosive climax. Pinborough really has a perfect blend of mystery, thriller and the supernatural.


I was hooked from the very beginning of the series. A Matter of Blood intrigued me. Where was the supernatural element leading? Why was it there? What was really going on behind the scenes? If the story got its hook into me with A Matter of Blood, The Shadow of the Soul took it a step further: the mystery deepened, there were more hints, more questions . . . and some answers, but not to every question. I was completely engaged with trying to solve the mystery – could *spoilerspoilerspoiler* be the answer? I was piecing together clues, and practically tearing my hair out waiting for The Chosen Seed. And it was the perfect conclusion. Everything works, everything finally makes sense. The big reveal, when it comes, is completely convincing and satisfying – so much that closing the book was both a mixture of joy and sadness. Joy at having read not only a darn good thriller, not just a terrific supernatural tale, but simply a superb story full stop. And the sadness, well that’s because I’ve finished it.

Paul

Paul Hussey is the Senior Production Controller in charge of getting all the lovely Gollancz books made. He took on the Gollancz list in 2007 and hasn’t stopped reading SFF since.