2016’s Hammers on Bone is the first work in Cassandra Khaw’s Persons Non Grata series.
The sign on his door says “John Persons, PI”. It doesn’t say “John Persons, Killer for Hire.” Abel, the kid currently on the other side of Persons desk, wants a killer, someone who will deal with his stepdad McKinsey before the stepdad can kill Abel and his brother James.
Persons has killed, but only in self-defence. Just like any other completely normal person. Persons is trying very hard to be a normal person. Abel is convinced that there’s more to Persons than meets the eye and he’s a very persuasive kid. Persons agrees to take a look at the stepdad and proceed as seems … ethical.
A faint mewling voice in the back of Persons’ head thinks that this is the right choice.
Detective work means leg work: tracking people down and talking to them. Persons knew the kid was mixed up in something dark as soon as he shook his hand. Talking to the kid’s mother,and to the stepdad’s co-workers confirms this. There are dark, slithery things squirming into Croydon. Not all of them are content to settle for cos-playing gruff but essentially decent PIs.
Persons may be out of his depth but if he wasn’t a stubborn fellow, he’d still be back in Yith, not strolling around Croydon looking just like a normal person. But as earnestly as he embraces his role as a tough detective willing to go one on one with mooks and star spawn, bravos, and Byakhee, Persons has overlooked a possibility that his role models (Spade and Marlowe) would have spotted:
The kid has an angle and that angle doesn’t involve Persons’ continued good health.
The thing looking out through Persons eyes could try to reshape the Earth to a more familiar form. But that would make it just like all the other tourists travelling to foreign lands, only to scuttle into safe, familiar enclaves (the hotel chain, the restaurant chain, etc.). Persons has opted to embrace the new culture he has adopted.
There’s only one minor flaw in Persons’ approach, which is that he is emulating his favourite fictional characters … without fully understanding that they were so successful because their author was on their side. It’s not clear that his author is on his side. Nor is he operating in the right setting. This town is more Lovecraftian than LA noir. Even the Continental Op would have to step carefully to stay alive. Grit only takes you so far against tentacles and ichor .
This was a short but amusing piece, interesting enough that I will be reading more of Khaw’s works. Right now, her novellas because they are available, her next novels when they come out, and a recent anthology because I am curious to see how the author performs as an editor. The stars are right for more Khaw material.
Hammers on Bone is available here.
1: Cast a Deadly Spell’s PI, H. Philip Lovecraft, managed to use steadfast ignorance and dumb luck to fumble his way through the case of the missing Necronomicon. However, I cannot recommend that approach. You cannot count on dumb luck.