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Hammers on Bone (Persons Non Grata) Paperback – October 11, 2016
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"Cassandra Khaw's explosive, evocative prose is a treat to read. Khaw's ability to transform the mundane into the deeply phantasmagorical is nothing short of magical. Prepare to take a long leap into the gory, the weird, and the fantastic in the hands of a fresh new voice in fiction." ―Kameron Hurley, Hugo Award-winning author of Mirror Empire and The Geek Feminist Revolution
"Khaw brilliantly combines the self-aware, on-point tone of her gumshoe narrator with the invasive rhythm of the language of pulsing terrors. The drearily everyday is infused with Lovecraftian dread in a marvelously horrifying, tightly built novella that spins a satisfying tale while doing honor to both of its core sources." ―Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A glorious fusion of the classic noir detective thriller with Lovecraftian horror, like the squamous tentacular lovechild of Raymond Chandler and H. P. Lovecraft hatching from a five-dimensional egg to slouch down these dark streets in search of human minds to flay. Seriously? Possibly the most promising horror debut of 2016, a suitable light in these dark times." ―Charles Stross
"Khaw has a definite flair for the grotesque." ―RT Book Reviews
"[An] incredible novella... Hammers on Bone transcends its genre – thanks in no small part to its private-investigatorand-monster protagonist and its very London setting – to become a timeless (and disturbing) parable about monsters." ―Locus
"Khaw paints a bleak yet potent alternate reality in which monsters―friend or foe―are devastatingly real. Persons strikes a perfect antihero stance that is emotionally fragile despite his supernatural power. Hammers on Bone is a brilliant blend of two venerable genres as well as a deeply affecting tale on its own." ―Shelf Awareness, starred review
"Hammers on Bone is an easy read on a hard subject." ―BleedingCool
"Khaw mixes noir tropes straight out of a Dashiell Hammett novel with lush, atmospheric horror making for a vibrant, visceral read." ―The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog
"Sizzling prose over a steamy noir beat with horrific monstrosities throughout. A helluva read." ―Daniel José Older, New York Times bestselling author of Shadowshaper and Midnight Taxi Tango
"Hammers on Bone is a delectable surprise, a discomfiting nightmare in novella shape, its eyes looking back at you to ask: who are the real monsters, little reader?" ―Book Smugglers
"Absolutely fantastic monsters-meet-gritty-noir story." ―Mike Laidlaw, creative director for Dragon Age
“Atmospheric Lovecraftian noir with a really tremendous eye for detail… If you like Dashiel Hammett and Lovecraft, this is a very effective blend.” ―Aliette de Bodard, Nebula Award-winning author of The House of Shattered Wings
"This is jolly good. You really ought to read this." ―Jonathan L. Howard, author of the Johannes Cabal and Carter & Lovecraft series
"So hardboiled you could crack demon heads with it, this twisting and turning Lovecraftian PI mystery is a delight. Cassandra Khaw ― fast becoming one of the hottest names in fantasy fiction ― has a light, assured touch and an inimitable style. I’ll read anything she writes." ―Lavie Tidhar, World Fantasy Award-winning author of A Man Lies Dreaming and The Violent Century
"Cassandra Khaw blows the dust off Lovecraft's prose to resurrect the Elder Gods in a white-hot, eyeball-popping adventure." ―Ferrett Steinmetz, author of Flex
"Khaw is one of the most exciting writers I've seen emerge in the past two years. [Hammers on Bone] is Lovecraftian in all the best ways." ―Silvia Moreno-Garcia, author of Certain Dark Things
"One hell of a delicious, hardbitten, unflinching experience." ―Alyssa Wong, Nebula and World Fantasy Award-winning author of "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers
About the Author
CASSANDRA KHAW writes a lot. Sometimes, she writes press releases and excited emails for Singaporean micropublisher Ysbryd Games. Sometimes, she writes for technology and video games outlets like Eurogamer, Ars Technica, The Verge, and Engadget. Mostly, though, she writes about the intersection between nightmares and truth, drawing inspiration from Southeast Asian mythology and stories from people she has met. She occasionally spends time in a Muay Thai gym punching people and pads.
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Top Customer Reviews
The job takes Mister Persons through the decaying homes, restaurants and factories of working-class London. Every step of the way he’s confronted with body-horror mutants and rebuffed by scared bystanders. An infection is worming through the homes of London, one that warps human mass into a shifting soup of eyes, fangs and spores. Throughout the novel people look the other way, too weighed down by daily life to fight the beasts living in their husbands and fathers.
Khaw does a beautiful job of infusing Mister Persons with reluctant menace. It becomes clear early on that his hardboiled persona is like a sort of memetic cage, channeling his impulses into a fascimile of humanity. Mister Persons internal world is described in smooth, hard-boiled prose, slightly at odds with the modern vernacular of the people he runs into. He deviates most when describing human body language, viewed with the alien precision of an entomologist dissecting a spider. The other monsters in Khaw’s London are less refined, their language degrading into some eldritch tongue as they lose their grips on the identities they’ve stolen.
Mister Persons is more eloquent, more refined, and perhaps more conflicted, but he’s no less dangerous than the beasts infecting London. Khaw shows this in distressingly familiar terms. We see him loom over abused women, violate strangers with a casual touch, and pick up other people’s kids at school, with bystanders whispering at the edges. His very presence is invasive, opening up telepathic streams. He’s tempted to write this telepathic violation off as something natural, like breathing, but even he knows that’s a weak excuse. Persons doesn’t rationalize his existence so much as fantasize about a better one. He returns again and again to fantasies about heroism without ever really indulging. “I’m not one for a fine touch,” he tells himself. “I’m a man.” But he’s not a man. He’s some kind of thing– a psychic parasite warping the flesh of its host body. Unless, of course, that’s all a ‘man’ is.
I’ll admit, I have a soft spot for media that reworks Lovecraft’s mythos into something more personal. While the uncaring gaze of the cosmos isn’t without its charms it loses its punch once you’ve digested a bit of existentialism. Khaw’s horrors are different. The Abyss may still lurk in the background but its pointy, scary bits are not just human, they’re familiar. If anything, the bubbling body-horror scenes help take the edge of the nauseating subtext of gnawing capitalism, domestic abuse and useless bystanders.
I’ve been a huge Cassandra Khaw fan since reading her novella “Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef” last year. From the second that I saw the announcement back in May that Tor.com acquired two novellas from her, I was on the edge of my seat with excitement because her writing is so freaking good that my expectations were sky high.
And then I read the first novella “Hammers on Bone” and I felt as if my entire world had changed.
“Hammers on Bone” is a dark and twisted detective story with definite notes of Lovecraftian Horror that are turned inside out across the pages of the novella.
It gave me chills and goosebumps and I cringed quite often while reading it. But it was a good kind of cringing because I found myself savoring the discomfort I felt because it was so in line with the tone of the novella that it drew me in even deeper into the story.
The main character of “Hammers on Bone” is both a man and a monster. John Persons is a hardboiled private investigator that also happens to be an otherworldly entity running the joint while the original inhabitant of the body is kinda stuck as a backseat driver. Persons reads as almost quaintly old-fashioned in some parts of “Hammers on Bone” and subtly threatening at others. So much of the character makes me imagine the ghost of Humphrey Bogart playing a villain in a Doctor Strange movie: part film noir, part freaky fantasy.
Persons’ not a good guy, not how anyone nowadays would define it, but despite some moments of PI dickery, he’s decent from the start. Which is great for me because I absolutely hate it when I’m reading a book and the main character is so unlikable that I begin to wish for their death.
What got me about “Hammers on Bone” was that very first page where Persons meets his new client, a little kid who can’t be more than eleven, who wants Persons to kill his stepfather because his stepfather is a monster. Look, when I read that, I know there was a part of my brain that was like “if Persons doesn’t help those kids, I will” despite how impossible it would be.
That’s how deeply the first chapter hooked me and how immediately I found myself clinging to these characters. Within a handful of pages, Khaw had me clenching my fingers around my kindle because I just cared so much about this kid and I wanted Persons to do right by them so badly that it was almost painful.
I adore Khaw’s writing in general. She has this talent for draping her narratives with rich descriptions and tension that tightens around you as you work your way through her works.
Even innocuous things like Persons walking into the factory where his client’s scary stepdad McKinsey works become something weighty. As I was reading, I found myself feeling jumpy because I could not figure out what would happen next: would there be a confrontation in the factory’s front yard between the two men/monsters? Would something else come out of left field to mess everything up?
All I could focus on was that uncertainty and how exciting it was to wonder what would follow.
Picture my face when the foreman of the factory starts growing extra eyes and mouths during Persons’ interrogation. Hell, I’m making a face right now in response to the pure and utter ick of that scene. That’s how intense it was.
I’m also a huge whiny baby when it comes to eye-horror so there’s a moment there where Persons uses his thumb to pop an eyeball that sprouted on the foreman’s neck (one of many) and I swear to god, I squealed. I’m not ashamed of that. Because a good book is one that can make me squeal and squirm and then keep reading.
The violence in “Hammers on Bone” is visceral, shocking. There are parts of it that made me worry that I couldn’t make it through to the next page because it shook me so deeply. The description of McKinsey’s behavior towards his sons, the way he talks to and about them, actually brought me to a point where I worried that I straight up couldn’t continue on.
That’s actually something anyone interested in reading “Hammers on Bone” should keep in mind. Persons’ client, that little kid, is dealing with all kinds of abuse from his stepfather and it’s implied and onscreen. Like you see some of his really terrible behavior towards them in chapter four where we (and Persons) actually meet him for the first time and it is bone-chilling how disgusting he is towards his sons.
McKinsey is so gross that I want to straight up punch him in the face for every single scene he was in. There are monsters that aren’t awful, but he’s not one of them. He’s just terrible and icky and when he gets his (albeit a little too late to actually save a certain someone), I would’ve cheered if not for how straight up terrifying the scene actually was for me.
What’s super interesting about “Hammers on Bone” is that Khaw does this great thing of showing that man-as-monster doesn’t have to be “monstrous”. Persons is a monster, but he’s a good egg when you get right down to it. All he wants to do is live his life and make as little waves as possible.
McKinsey on the other hand is the capital-M “Monster” and I don’t think all of that has to do with the otherworldly infection he’s embraced. He’s awash in, among other things, toxic masculinity and his everything winds up entangled in entitlement and ownership. Seriously, his “me, mine, move” outlook on life can’t possibly be a result of what lives in his head.
So reading “Hammers on Bone” and looking at the two men in that light is super enlightening and I left the book with some seriously thinky thoughts about men and monsters.
If you asked me how I felt about “Hammers on Bone”, I don’t have to think about it.
Despite – no, because of — the potentially squicky moments that left me frowning at my kindle and wriggling with discomfort, I can’t get enough of “Hammers on Bone”. After that ending and the whopper of an epilogue with Shub-Niggurath, all I can think of is how much I want more of this. I want more of John Persons and the meat that he rides around London (and wow, that sounded less… NSFW in my head). I want to know what plans Shubby has for London and why she doesn’t want him interfering.
And more than anything, I want to see what other cases Persons is going to find himself entangled in.
“Hammers on Bone” is thrilling, terrifying, and more than a little bit messed up. It messed me up for sure and I still want more of the universe. I think that if anything, the fact that it was rough to read and still so satisfying made the book a better experience for me.
Cassandra Khaw is an amazing writer, genuinely one of the best I’ve ever read, and if you’re like me and grouchy about white dude fascination with revering and repeating Lovecraft’s mistakes within his mythos, hers is a book you should check out.
On this works specifically, if this isn't the first of a series or the prequel to a full length novel I swear I'll take my own hammer to some bones. I'm planning on picking up a few more of her works, but this was amazing. Highly recommend this, especially if you have a thing for detectives, or Lovecraft.