Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw
H.P. Lovecraft meets Sam Spade in this genre-bending novella that blends noir with ancient occult evil in modern London. John Persons comes across as the typical literary P.I, caustic and world weary, until eleven year old Abel brings in his piggy bank as payment for killing McKinsey, his abusive father—whom he refers to, quite literally, as a monster. The boy knows what we only learn later—that Persons is more than a man, but a creature as old as time and as dangerous as a god. Persons doesn’t go in for hits, but the more he learns about this McKinsey character, the more seriously he takes his assignment. McKinsey shares something with Persons—that same spirit of an ancient presence who is capable of contaminating everything it touches—but unlike Persons, McKinsey revels in his power to infect and destroy anything decent he sees. Persons, determined to tamp down his own inner devils, perceives it as his mission to take this character down. His character is very self-aware, as if he’s doing a Bogie impression, while tracking evil more akin to Cthulhu than Peter Lorre, which makes for some tongue in cheek humor as well. Person returns in A Song for Quiet as a secondary character with an American setting involving a blues musician who brings forth monsters with his playing.
The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian
Zoe Faust is a 300-something ex-alchemist who moves to open-minded Portland, Oregon to live a normal life. Things go awry immediately, of course, when she buys an old house and hires a contractor who is promptly murdered on her property, making Zoe the prime suspect. She then unpacks a box whose contents include a mysterious talking gargoyle who wants Zoe to use her long-unpracticed powers to help him reverse the spell that made him into stone. A nosy young neighbor and potential housebreaker named Brixton sees too much and Zoe makes a pact with the boy to include him on both her quest to solve the death of the carpenter and find the lost book that will restore flesh and bone to the stone effigy. His name is Dorian, by the way, and he’s the son of the famous 19thc French magician Robert Houdin—a delightfully goofy character who loves mystery novels and insists upon advising Zoe in her every move. The handsome Detective Max Liu rounds out the cast of characters who try to help Zoe out of the mess, which includes another murder and threats from a Czech chemist who would also like to get his hands on Dorian’s missing book of magic. Then there’s Brixton’s vegan artist mother who shares recipes while trying to keep her meddlesome kid out of trouble. You get the picture—it’s light fun, but are surprising bits of historical information and lore as well. The next book is The Elusive Elixir.
The Binding by Nicholas Wolff
This thriller looks to be the first in a promising ongoing series featuring police detective John Bailey and psychologist Nat Thayer looking into murder and missing person cases that enter into the realm of the supernatural. Seemingly idyllic Northam Massachusetts (Lovecraft territory?) is rocked by the horrific death and lack of evidence in the murder of college student Margaret Post. Detective Bailey is troubled by the both the crime and the subsequent rash of suicides and strange disappearances of those same bodies from the morgue. Meanwhile, Dr. Thayer deals with the disturbing memories of a number of patients, including an attractive young women named Becca Prescott, who insists she is a ghost. While he knows there are medical conditions that can bring on such symptoms, the manifestations become even stranger and more profuse. Another patient, lawyer Chuck Goodwin feels the presence of an invisible stalker, while Bailey’s little son Charlie begins to question the reality of the people in family photographs. Thayer and Bailey join forces to uncover the sinister secrets of the once quiet little town—secrets that bind them to an indelible and haunted past that sets the scene for future sequels.