Hammers on Bone may be the grimmest story I’ve ever read. Imagine HP Lovecraft by way of Dashiel Hammett. Imagine Philip Marlowe running surveillance on Cenobites. Imagine Charcoal Joe hired by Malachai. Yeah, it’s that kind of story.
Now I know, I know. I mentioned Lovecraft in my last book review. I swear, I’m not one of those fanboys who thinks everything even mildly creepy is “Lovecraftian”. The comparison is apt here. The fact that the comparison is so often appropriate is a tribute to Lovecraft’s reach and influence. The only writer in the genre who could be said to have made a bigger impact is Edgar Allan Poe.
Hammers on Bone starts with a seemingly straight-forward plot. A young boy hires a private detective to investigate his abusive father. Only it quickly becomes apparent that by “investigate” the child means kill. And that the father might not be human anymore.
I don’t want to spoil anything, as this is a book where the twists and turns are pretty genuinely shocking, but I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that there is no happy ending here. No matter what, our protagonist either loses, or a little boy loses his father. The set up alone is darker than most horror tales.
Where the true bleakness of this novel comes to light is in the storytelling. Cassandra Khaw has managed to perfectly give voice to John Persons. From his utter disdain for the average human, to his exhausted, fatalistic view of the malign entities littered throughout this tale of woe, he is totally believable. When he is finally forced to fight, the violence is given such beautiful, disgusting imagery, that you can almost taste the gore.
Hammers on Bone is short, fast, and nasty. At 106 pages, it’s the sort of book that you can read by noon, and spend the rest of the day wishing there was more. I haven’t read the follow-up, A Song For Quiet yet, but I am looking forward to it. Bottom-line: if you like hard-boiled detectives, or hideous monstrosities from beyond space, you need to read this book.