(Cross-posted from the Adarna SF book blog)
Hank is a private investigator who has to solve the case of a man-eating monster. I’d peg this at both contemporary fantasy and horror. The fantastical and horror elements come from–well… the man-eating monster. The protagonist is a fairly typical P.I., but Pepper does excellent characterization, so it’s hard not to be charmed by Hank.
I really enjoyed the first half of this book. I was hooked right from page one, it’s fast-paced, and the dialogue and the descriptions of the characters are delightful. They’re quirky people: Sandy the kleptomaniac secretary, Joe at the Pool Hall (when he shrugs, his chins line up like a seven layer cake), Mackenzie the moody rich girl who knows more than she’s letting on–and there’s plenty of other personalities. I swear I was chuckling or grinning at something on every third page.
The monster itself is original too. Pepper masterfully writes the creature in such a way that the reader has an idea of what it could be like, but not with too much detail that all the mystery is gone. What’s unknown is always more terrifying than what is completely known. The creature is also a surprisingly well-developed character on its own right, and is actually more sympathetic compared to the humans that it gets to know (fairly intimately).
I was surprised that a sizable portion of the book is written from the monster’s point of view, and it’s one of the highlights. I’m a sucker for body horror, and I was giddy with delight at the descriptions of the monster devouring people from the inside out. It’s simultaneously fun and disgusting. What makes it unique is that it isn’t focused on “pain” or “terror” which is typically told from the victim’s perspective, but rather from the creature’s POV of “delicious.” It’s joyously merciless.
While I liked the monster’s POV, I don’t think those scenes work for the narrative structure. The first half is told from Hank’s perspective as he figures out the details of the case. Then after a major cliffhanger, it changes into the monster’s POV showing how the deaths actually took place. But the problem is that it loses the momentum of the first half of the book. The reader already knows that these people are dead, and it doesn’t reveal a lot of new information. It goes on for too long to the point that after I flipped each page, I kept hoping that it would jump back to the present. But it takes up at least a third of the book, and it eventually felt like a drag. Perhaps the monster’s POV would have been better integrated into the story if it was dealing with present developments and alternated chapters with Hank’s POV.
The other issue I had was a plot hole. Considering what Thomas Blake knows about the monster, it doesn’t make sense why he hired Hank. Mr. Blake is an intelligent man, but hiring Hank just doesn’t seem to be in his interest. Mr. Blake has a lot of resources to draw on, so why Hank? This question bothered me as I read on, and that it was all I could think about during the last third of the book. Unfortunately, the ending doesn’t shed any light on Mr. Blake’s motivations, which makes the resolution quite unsatisfying.
There are many wonderful things about Symphony of Blood. The premise is fun, and the prose and characterizations are top-notch. You should take a look at this if you like private investigators, body horror, and dark humour. I enjoyed it, but the plot hole and the long monster POV section made for a distracting experience in the final part of the book. Even though this isn’t the most engaging novel I’ve read this year, Pepper is a promising writer, and I’m interested to see what other stories he has to offer.
Note: A free review copy was provided by the author.
(reviewed 46 days after purchase)