Sarah Pinborough is one of the stars of Fantasycon – a bubbly character with sufficient personal charisma to stop the traffic, something that most authors don’t possess. I’d known that she wrote Horror/Dark Fantasy, so when I came across this offering I plucked it off the shelves.
As the world sinks deeper into recession, London is rocked by a major terrorist attack that cripples the city. Detective Inspector Cass Jones is busy investigating a series of apparently linked student suicides when Special Branch calls on him to help in their search for a very unusual suspect. As if that isn’t enough, Cass is given a message from beyond the grave. With three words – ‘They took Luke’ – written by his brother before he was brutally murdered, Cass Jones once again feels the world tilt beneath him. He knows who ‘They’ are – Mr Bright and the shadowy Network – and he knows that his dead brother has given him the task of finding the baby, his nephew, stolen at birth. As Cass tries to divide his time between his two legitimate investigations and his private one, it’s not long before he discovers links where none should be…
This book plunged right into the action and didn’t let up until the final page, and though at no time was I floundering – Pinborough is far too accomplished a writer for that – I did get the sense that I would have better appreciated exactly what was going on if I’d tracked down the first book, A Matter of Blood, before launching into The Shadow of the Soul. However, it didn’t take long to get drawn into this gritty police procedural tale that felt far more like a Rankin whodunit than your average Dark Fantasy crime story. Cass Jones is a typically overburdened inner-city detective with a dysfunctional family life, rather than the supernatural, angst-driven beings that often inhabit urban fantasy crime novels.
Pinborough has successfully managed to come up with a flavour all of her own in this increasingly popular sub-genre. Second books in a trilogy often lack pace as they simultaneously have to produce a complete story arc, yet leave/produce a series of vital plot points dangling for the final book to solve. But this story whisks along as we get increasing insights into the Network and the strains within the apparently invulnerable organisation, as Cass Jones is still desperately trying to come to terms with what has happened to him and his family during the previous book. All these concerns are woven through the current investigations with deftness and skill that ensure this is a solid page-turner.
So, does the denouement pack sufficient punch? It needs to – Crime/Dark Fantasy genres require a strong ending to be regarded as successful and as Pinborough has braided these ingredients together, she has to pull off a really gripping conclusion that provides genuine shock value. Which she achieves with style. As Cass struggles to cope with the new set of facts he uncovers after investigating the events that have befallen his troubled family – the crimes he has also been following also get tied up in a way that I didn’t see coming.
This second book has been sufficiently gripping that I’m going to hunt down the first and third offerings in this disturbing, compulsive series – and I recommend that you give it a go. But start with A Matter of Blood – writing this good deserves to be read in the correct order.