on 20 September 2012
Pinborough's work is something I've been familiar with for a few years now, although up until now only through her shorter work: she won a major award for her stunning short novel/novella 'The Language of Dying' (2009) as well as another for one of her short stories. She has also written six horror novels for the American imprint Leisure Books; despite two of these being nominated for awards she has said she felt constrained by the publisher's wish for straight cut-and-dyed horror novels.
Finally this talented British writer now has a major British publisher - and Gollancz has set her free. 'The Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy' is a supernatural thriller, exploring the origins of the ultimate secret society which runs the world.
Like Gary McMahon's terrific 'The Concrete Grove Trilogy', each volume in Pinborough's series is semi-independent, though naturally less so in the final volume as all the various strands come together. And, as with the McMahon, I read them all one-after-the-other as one complete 1100 page novel.
In 'A Matter of Blood' Detective Inspector Cass Jones is on the trail of a bizarre serial killer known as the Man of Flies...
'The Shadow of the Soul' see Jones investigating a series of apparently linked student suicides...
And 'The Chosen Seed' finds the police desperately trying to stop the Angel of Death, a killer infecting the London populace with a deadly virus called Strain II...
So far so good? The makings of a solid enough crime series right there, if a little routine. But this is no ordinary crime series, and the above are no more than consequential storylines coming about as a result of the trilogy's main plot: finding out what and who the mysterious Mr Bright is.
These novels are set the day after tomorrow, the world deep in the grip of a global recession - and deeply in debt to The Bank, an international institution run by a secretive cartel which controls more than just the world's finances.
That company of wealthy men (who collectively are known as the Inner Cohort) make up The Network, the stealth organization for which The Bank is just a front. They pull strings, they influence world events. They are, truly, puppet masters. And they are known only - if they are known at all - by such names as Mr Solomon, Mr Craven, Mr Dublin... and Mr Bright.
And they have been around for a very long time.
Each of these men possess something mere mortals do not; the Glow.
It is this Glow that causes DI Cass Jones to become ensnared in the world of these powerful men in the first volume, 'A Matter of Blood'. Jones's brother Christian works for The Bank where he discovers something he didn't like - a terrible truth about his son Luke. Christian kills his wife, child and himself, but Jones is never convinced that this was ever just a case of a high-flying, high-earning city worker cracking under pressure and going off the rails. And even less so when Jones finds himself set up for the murders.
There is more, so much more: every incident in these crackling novels is ultimately linked to the bigger picture. Two boys, innocent bystanders, gunned down during a failed gangland hit on a crime lord. Jones's police partner Claire May's boyfriend turns out to be running a scam involving half the police force - with dire consequences for her and everyone else. The terrorist attacks seen through the prime minister's personal security officer Abigail Porter... and Abigail's own sister becoming one of the student suicides.
The Network tracing bloodlines, a couple being unwittingly manipulated in order to come together... and their offspring stolen at birth. Every thread is part of the bigger tapestry in these fast-paced, intricate novels. Secret societies ruling the world is nothing original, but Pinborough's secret rulers go back more than just a few hundred years, her ambitious trilogy revealing the ultimate conspiracy theory and a battle between good and evil of biblical proportions.
Photos of Pinborough on the internet reveal an attractive young woman who looks like the quintessential authoress of chic-lit. Don't be fooled. As these unflinching novels reveal Pinborough is no shrinking violet, and she certainly pulls no punches. It's interesting that, aside from the relatively small roles of Claire May and Abigail Porter, all the players in 'The Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy' are male characters. The author deliberately rebelling against that first impression people might get of her if they saw her photo? Perhaps, but if Pinborough felt the need to prove that she could hold her own 'with the boys' then she's more than succeeded. Gollancz have given her the chance to realise her full potential and she's grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Pinorough is definitely here to stay.
If you loved McMahon's Concrete Grove series then you'll love this - indeed, I could well imagine a collaboration between these two gifted writers, so close are their sensibilities in terms of gritty urban thrillers with a twist-of-lemon and their obvious concern for their novels to be very character-driven.
Shot and framed for murder, Cass Jones is on the run but with the help of unexpected allies, he's more determined than ever to find out once and for all what really happened to his nephew, Luke, and how it ties in with Mr Bright and the Bank. Meanwhile Hask and Ramsey are investigating the sudden spread of Strain II, which is cutting a swathe through London's population but their investigation brings them into conflict with the Bank and an unexpected clue makes them question the case against Cass. As for Mr Bright, well he has his own problems. The Network is splitting into factions intent on overthrowing his control while the Interventionists are warning of a decisive battle but cannot tell who will win.
With everything hinging on finding Luke, the stakes have never been higher but Cass soon realises that there are more answers than perhaps even he is ready for ...
The conclusion to Sarah Pinborough's dark and gripping DOG-FACED GODS TRILOGY is a satisfying read that neatly ties up the loose ends without losing the moral ambiguity that lies at its core.
As with the earlier books, Cass Jones is a fascinating character, treading the line between darkness and light as he searches for his nephew. I loved his determination, his guilt over his relationship with his brother and the fact that Pinborough isn't afraid to make him a total tool at times as well. Cass doesn't shy away from the truth, just as he's not afraid of hard answers. However, my favourite character remains the enigmatic Mr Bright - a master manipulator who knows what's happening in every strand of his web. The battle of wits between him and Cass kept me turning the pages and where Pinborough does really well is in balancing all of the different plot strands while simultaneously drawing them together.
Hask and Ramsey get more page time, but I would have also liked to see more of DS Armstrong because his refusal to buy into the Cass Jones fan club gave an interesting counterpoint to the overall story. Also, while I thought that the morally ambiguous ending was entirely in keeping with the tone of the trilogy, I can see that some readers may be disappointed by the decisions that get made.
All in all, this is a well-crafted horror trilogy and I really look forward to reading Pinborough's next work.
on 25 July 2012
The Dog-Faced Gods trilogy comes to an end in assured and satisfying fashion. Picking up from where The Shadow of the Soul left off, we are presented with another crazed killer on the loose but this device is used here more to ground the reader with familiar structure than to form the main thread of the plot as the elements that have remained in the background up until now come to the fore. That said, the Angel of Death is as effectively macabre an avatar as the Man of Flies - his means of bestowing death fuses Bibilical horror with contemporary pandemic fears to stomach-churning and deeply disturbing effect.
But the focus here is Cass Jones as he approaches his final confrontation with Mr Bright and the Network. This trilogy has always been his story as he drags himself out of the personal mire his life had sunken into at the beginning and makes his faltering way towards a redemption he is not sure he really wants any part of. The Chosen Seed is where he truly shines, or shall I say Glows, in his determined quest to track down his nephew. Here, he is more driven than he has been before and, as a reader, you are with him every step of the way.
It is also in the mythic aspects that The Chosen Seed really works for me. There are some highly effective episodes of surrealism and nightmare here echoing with a convincing sense of cosmic horror that I admit I was not expecting to find in this trilogy. To tell of the revelations that explain what has really been going on behind the scenes in the world of the Dog-Faced Gods would, of course, constitute a massive spoiler so all I will say is that I found, when they were presented, that they formed a well-crafted coda to everything that had gone before after the dust settled and the battle was done.
And yes, you do get to find out just what the Dog-Faced Gods actually means, at last.
Sarah is an author who has pretty much mastered the art of sleight of hand, just as you think you know what's happening, she pulls something out that you really didn't see coming and leaves you wondering how in the hell she did that. Add to this the usual cast of great characters who're fully fleshed alongside a plotline that delivers horror and treachery in abundance as well as giving the reader a full octane knuckle gripping ride and it's a tale that was a pure joy to read.
Finally add to the mix an edge of the seat of your pants to the Dog-Faced Gods trilogy, alongside paranoia of an almost Roman level and it really is the best of the lot. I'm really going to miss this series and think a reread will be in order in the near future.