Symphony of Blood, A Hank Mondale Supernatural Case by Adam Pepper (2011)

Symphony of Blood by Adam PepperSmashwords / Amazon / Author’s Site

3/5 stars

Hank Mondale, a rough-around-the-edges P.I. with a small drinking problem and a large gambling problem, needs a break. With his landlord threatening eviction and his bookie threatening worse, things look bleak. Until real estate mogul Thomas Blake calls with an incredible story: a monster is trying to kill his daughter. Hank figures she’s probably some whacked-out spoiled brat, but desperate, Hank takes the case to track down the supposed monster. It seems that people around Mackenzie Blake are disappearing. It’s obviously no coincidence. Was Hank hired to unwittingly aid a wealthy murderess? Or is there really someone…or some thing, trying to kill Mackenzie Blake?

A symphony plays that only It can hear. But there will be a special performance, just for her.

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.

Other reviews of this book: Science Fiction Addiction

You might like this if you like…
Eldritch abominations, shady urban characters, rough-around-the-edges private investigators, body horror, descriptive scenes of a monster devouring people from the inside out

It’s neat to note that J. A. Konrath liked this book: “Symphony of Blood hits like a sledgehammer.  Fast and furious.  I loved this book.”

Pepper also has several other books, but they’re only available as paperbacks. There’s a book about a muscle-bound fetus called Super Fetus. The cover says everything. You may want to check that out if you like bizarro fiction and black humour.

About Caroline Cryonic

Formerly known as Frida Fantastic. A speculative fiction book blogger from Vancouver, Canada currently living in Quezon City, Philippines.

Posted on September 26, 2011, in 3 stars, Adam Pepper, Contemporary and Urban Fantasy, Dark fiction and Horror, Ebook Reviews, Fantasy, Frida Reviewed, Hank Mondale, Hardboiled and Noir, Symphony of Blood and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Eerily similar reviews. People are going to start suspecting we’re the same reviewer LOL.

    • Haha! While I was in the middle of it, I was like “What? This is a 3 star book for Derek? I have no idea what he’s talking about. I don’t see any plot holes, and this monster is freaking awesome.” Then I read on and I completely understood where you were coming from.

      I disagree with you on the need for character development though. As long as the characters are colourful and entertaining, I’m okay with them being static. It’s mostly the case with the old detective pulps, and I think this novel is going in the same vein.

      I noticed that you gave Genesis Earth a higher “tribbles” rating than Symphony of Blood, but I actually enjoyed this much more than Genesis Earth. They’re both excellent until midway through, where the narrative/plot issues kick in. Symphony of Earth still entertained me although I was thinking “fix this plot hole plz”. I thought Genesis Earth was far more disappointing, because of the crazy shift of focus in the story (as we discussed) and their mission stopped making sense to me.

  2. I tend to avoid horror and gore…but I’m a hopeless sucker for fast paced action, fun and quirky characters, and quick dialogue. Decisions, decisions!

    By the way, I’m loving what you’ve done with the place. :)

    • Thanks! This *is* horror and body horror. But like many skillfully written horror, the gore isn’t over described and is mostly implied. But it’s actually more terrifying that way :P I’m not sure if that helps!

  3. You bring up a good point with the character development. Perhaps I should have worded that better in my review. I don’t think it’s necessary for all stories…but I would go so far to say that I generally find novels with character development to be more satisfying than those without and I think most people, were they to go through what Hank goes through, would find their outlook shifted a bit.

    As far as the Tribble ratings go between Genesis Earth and Symphony of Blood…I think you’re absolutely right. GE’s plot started going all over the place, while SoB’s was just sunk by one gigantic hole. In retrospect I should have scored GE a bit differently but it was my first review, and I think it took me a couple to get a solid idea of the framework I initially came up with.

    • That’s true. I haven’t read more about where the author is taking Hank Mondale, but he might be continuing a series. If they’re going to be structured like standalone novels, then it’s necessary to bring the characters to a “status quo”.

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