Today is release day for the newest Raw Dog Screaming Press authors: Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray! I read this book ages ago, and I’ve been so excited to share it with all of you.
ABOUT THE BOOK
On the verge of losing her laboratory, her savings, and all respect for herself, Pandora (Penny) Yee lands her first contract as scientific consult to the police department. And with seventeen murder cases on the go, the surly inspector is happy to leave her to it. Only she’s going to need to get around, and that means her slightly unhinged adopted brother, Matiu, will be doing the driving. But something about the case spooks Matiu, something other than the lack of a body in the congealing pool of blood in the locked room or that odd little bowl.
Matiu doesn’t like anything about this case, from the voices that screamed at him when he touched that bowl, to the way his hateful imaginary friend Makere has come back to torment him, to the fact that the victim seems to be tied up with a man from Matiu’s past, a man who takes pleasure in watching dogs tear each other to pieces for profit and entertainment.
Hounds of the Underworld blends mystery, near-future noir and horror. Set in New Zealand it’s the product of a collaboration by two Kiwi authors, one with Chinese heritage and the other Māori. This debut book in The Path of Ra series offers compelling new voices and an exotic perspective on the detective drama.
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Disclaimer: The authors and I share a publisher. I received a hardcopy version of this book as a thank you for proofing an earlier version of the text.
On the surface, this book doesn’t seem to have a lot that would appeal to me as a reader. In an alternate universe, I probably bought a copy to support the fellow authors who write for the same indie press that I do and quietly left it on a shelf with a promise to read it “someday” (sadly, true for some books in our own universe). Instead, my editor asked me to read an earlier version of the submitted text with the promise that I’d make it through the horror bits okay.
I’m glad I did. I loved so much about this book.
The horror elements are more akin to the violence found in any good murder mystery, with the addition of some bonus otherworldly tentacled horrors that I was too busy being horrifically fascinated by to feel, well, horrified. I’m actually really interested to see where the supernatural elements of this book go further in the series, so consider me hooked despite my general disinclination toward the horror genre.
But what really made this novel shine is the characters and setting. And it’s not just because Wellington, New Zealand, is exotic to me as a reader. The near-future, vaguely dystopic representation of the city adds to the overall environment of the book, such as the government farms beyond the city limits and the allusions to what’s happening in the rest of the world.
As for the characters, I think I’d happily read about Penny and Matiu being snarky at each other even without the rest of the plot happening. It was delightfully refreshing to see a crime-solving duo that is NOT burdened by awkward sexual tension just to create a romantic subplot. Instead, the characters’ obvious affection for each other is balanced by the conflict born of all sibling relationships, and the team dynamic was fresh and enjoyable.
Individually, I loved that Penny’s internal narration showed that, at heart, she was a scientist first, which informed her interactions with her environment even when outside her laboratory. While the weird almost-romantic tension between her and her lab assistant seemed sometimes contrived, the awkward set-up with a government official by her meddling parents felt realistic to the point of genuine discomfort.
Matiu’s angst bordered on overwhelming at times, but I found his “imaginary friend” fascinating. In Matiu’s point of view scenes, there were just enough hints that he might be an unreliable narrator to keep me on my toes regarding what was true and what was not. It was subtle, but very well done.
This story ends on a tiny bit of a cliff-hanger — I was more than satisfied by the arc of the story I read, but at the same time, I’m anxiously awaiting more!
Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Dan Rabarts is an award-winning short fiction author and editor, recipient of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel (SJV) Award for Best New Talent in 2014. His science fiction, dark fantasy and horror short stories have been published in numerous venues around the world, including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, StarShipSofa and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Together with Lee Murray, he co-edited the anthologies Baby Teeth – Bite-sized Tales of Terror, winner of the 2014 SJV for Best Collected Work and the 2014 Australian Shadows Award for Best Edited Work, and At The Edge, a collection of Antipodean dark fiction, which won the SJV for Best Collected Work in 2017. His novella Tipuna Tapu won the Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction as part of the Australian Shadows Awards in 2017. Hounds of the Underworld, Book 1 of the crime/horror series The Path of Ra, co-written with Lee Murray, is his first novel. Find out more at dan.rabarts.com.
A nine-time winner of the New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, Lee Murray is the author of numerous novels and novellas, including award-winning military thriller Into the Mist (Cohesion Press) described by World Horror Master Michael B. Collings as “adrenalin-fueled excitement in a single, coherent, highly imaginative and ultimately impressive narrative”. Lee is proud to have co-edited six anthologies, one of which, the charity collection Baby Teeth: Bite-sized Tales of Terror (with Dan Rabarts) won her an Australian Shadows Award for Best Edited Work 2014. Her current projects include the second book in her supernatural crime noir series The Path of Ra (co-written with Dan Rabarts), and Into the Ashes, the third title in her Taine McKenna adventure series. She lives with her family in the Bay of Plenty. Read more at www.leemurray.info.
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