Released today from Raw Dog Screaming Press!
Hounds of the Underworld is a gripping new novel, co-written by Kiwi authors Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray. Packed with action, chilling drama and otherworldly terrors, it brilliantly blends supernatural horror with crime-noir. Set in near-future Auckland in the 2040’s, the noir setting becomes all the more appropriate.
The two main characters, Penny the career-driven lab-technician and her adopted brother/cousin Matiu, are at odds from the outset, yet they’re dependent on each other’s different skill-set to get the job done. Matiu’s criminal past is a constant headache for Penny who has just received her first assignment from the police to help solve a crime. Unfortunately, Matiu’s shady connections to a man dealing in dog-fights offers a breakthrough in Penny’s case that she cannot turn her back on. To make things worse, she’s reliant on him as a driver, since in this day and age, not everyone can afford a car. There’s also a deep undercurrent of paranormal danger, as Matiu struggles with a dark entity, Makere who has haunted him since he was a boy. A constant shadow at his side and whisper in his ear, Makere constantly prompts Matiu to cause trouble. As a woman of science, Penny dismisses Matiu’s imaginary friend as a construct of his troubled mind. She can never trust his gut-feelings no matter how on the mark they are. This contrast in perspectives makes the blend of genre’s work particularly well, casting a wide net for readers of varying interests.
Thoroughly researched Murray and Rabart’s world-building is subtle and evocative. The setting is unique and fresh and engaging throughout, woven masterfully within the story-telling. Lovely detail is paid to creating the feeling of a future where resources are strained, but not so far as to be post-apocalyptic. A native New Zealand bird species, the Takahe, is extinct and Penny has to watch how long her shower is to avoid running out of her daily allowance. The science is solid with believable leaps to near future tech. I particularly love Penny’s DNA typing machine, the Breadmaker™ and how Penny notes; “if science gets any easier she’ll be out of a job”.
Some wonderful descriptions bring a Lovecraftian tone to some of the paranormal drama. One of my favourites:
“He knocks again. This time, when no one answers, he reaches out, wraps a hand around the door handle. It’s cold as death in his grip. He turns it. With a soft crack, like the sound of the thin ice in the centre of a pond surrendering to some brave and foolish child’s weight on a frosty winter morning, the door swings in.”
The strongest part of the book for me is easily the two protagonists. Their characters are deep and engaging and beautifully juxtaposed so that as their situation becomes more perilous, we see the tension reflected in their relationship. The writers swing effortlessly between humour and drama, adding a layer of dark humour to what might otherwise be a more bleak and grim tale. Sometimes, Penny and Matiu’s troubles are heart-wrenching, but sometime they’re wonderfully hilarious. I was reminded fondly of the pairing of Scully and Moulder from the X-files. However, in this case the lab-nerd is teamed up with an ex-con with no regard for rules or fear of losing his job. Matiu’s slight personality disorder allows him to test his sister’s patience far beyond what most normal adult siblings would. However, his emotional depth reveals itself in his personal battle with his inner-demons and his perception of the spiritual realm.
Secondary characters provide a nice broad array of personalities for Penny and Matiu to bounce off. Though they are sometimes not as developed as I might have liked, there should be scope to flesh them out more in the sequels. Rabarts and Murray do a great job of picking moments to let secondary characters shine, without dropping the pace. The suspense builds nicely towards a gruesome climax that is satisfyingly horrible. There are moments I felt that the writers were holding back a bit too much from the reader, mostly when it came to unveiling the truth behind events of the crime or the killer’s motives, however, I understand why they’d want to hold a few cards to play in the sequel by keeping us guessing.
All in all, Murray and Rabarts deliver a page-turning killer of a tale, I can’t wait to read the next instalment.
About the Authors
Dan Rabarts writes fantasy and speculative fiction. He is a sometime narrator of podcasts (including stories for the Hugo award-winning StarShipSofa), occasional sailor of sailing things, and father of two wee miracles in a little house on a hill, under the southern sun. In 2014 Dan received the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent. Baby Teeth – Bite-sized Tales of Terror, a horror anthology co-edited with Lee Murray, also won the SJV for Best Collected Work and the Australian Shadows Award for Best Edited Work. Dan’s short stories have appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Aurealis Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and on the Parsec Award-winning steampunk podcast Tales from the Archives, among many others. Find him here: dan.rabarts.com; Twitter; Facebook
Lee Murray writes fiction for adults and children. She is a five-time winner of the Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction, fantasy and horror, and holds an Australian Shadows Award (with Dan Rabarts) for Best Edited Collection for Baby Teeth: Bite-sized Tales of Terror . She is co-editor of five anthologies, including four by New Zealand intermediate and secondary students, as well as At the Edge (with Dan Rabarts) a collection of antipodean speculative fiction. Lee’s fourth novel, Into the Mist, a speculative thriller set in the Urewera ranges, is published by Australia’s Cohesion Press. Find her here: leemurray.info; Facebook