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Review: Horn, by Peter M Ball

I picked up Horn at Continuum 5, partly because I like to support small presses (hello girliejones !) but mostly because I kept hearing intriguing things about it, from girliejones but also comments on her posts. About unicorns behaving in a way that wasn't all cute little fairy story adorableness.

I approve when the world of faerie is written about as a dark, powerful, scary place. Faeries weren't necessarily all that fun in the original stories and were as likely to play nasty tricks as clean your house Back In the Day.

I also approve when people take two apparently disconsonant ideas and smash them together - particularly when the result is entertaining.

Which brings me to Horn. A work of hard-boiled detective fiction, a la MIckey Spillane and Sam Spade. There's the jaded detective, a former cop who's been through the wringer once too often. There's the detective's mysterious femme fatale who still holds a strong, seductive attraction for our protagonist. There are thorough dirtbag villains and vicious thugs,all fronting for the dirtist, most vicious crime king of all. There's heartbreak and horror. And faeries. And unicorns.

Raymond Chandler's famous description of a PI starts "down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean." In this instance, our man is a woman, Miriam Aster, with her haunted past. She is a perfect hard-boiled, mean-streets detective and is surrounded with the required cast.

But the whole thing is sparkier than the old fashioned hard-boiled detective story, which is after all over 60 years old as a genre and often rendered more as a cliche than as the Maltese Falcon. This is where blending it with fantasy works so well for it. A genre that can be so, well, airy-fairy, so high-brow and wispy and mystic, crashing into the low-down, grungy, gutter world creates a fabulous frisson and makes something entirely new.

Parts of this book are grotesque and horrific, but importantly not, I felt, gratuitous. I can't talk too much about it without giving away vital plot elements, but certainly it's not a scene for the squeamish. The appalling nature of it is pivotal to the plot, however, and Aster's reaction to it gives it gravity.

Horn skates close to cliche at times, by the nature of it's mean streets structure, but the introduction of the fantasy element, made dark and dirty, keeps it above that, and keeps it fresh. A lot of the characters aren't very likeable, yet I liked Aster, self destructive as she (and her type) is.

Horn is a novella, a fast read at 80 pages - a short, sharp uppercut of a book. Parts of it are hard and ugly, as they need to be for this kind of story, but it's also a ripping yarn. It may leave you desperate for whisky and a cigarette, but you'll finish it knowing you've fought the good fight.

Buy Horn from Twelfth Planet Press.



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 3rd, 2009 12:19 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I agree with everything you said but still didn't feel like anything much had happened by the end because everything was a fait accompli, if you kwim. There was no one who might have been saved... I'm not at all saying someone *should* have been saved, just that it would have been good to get to know someone, care about whether they were saved or not, and then have them not get saved...

Ah, making no sense. Late. I said all this to you in person anyway.

Great writing, tight characters, some unusual stuff.
Sep. 3rd, 2009 10:39 pm (UTC)
:-) I see what you're saying, but I didn't quite feel like that. Actually, I thought the person to be saved was Aster, and that had to be done through her choices. I liked her! I felt that it was about justice as well as vengeance in the end, and I like the balance that was struck.

I'd definitely like to see a longer, more complex story in this universe. (In case you're reading, Peter M Ball!)
Sep. 7th, 2009 06:23 am (UTC)
Looks like a good read, so I've ordered it.

Which reminds me, I must see if I can find the DVD of one of my favorite movies, which is a PI cliche - Dead Men DOn't Wear Plaid.

Off to Amazon
Sep. 7th, 2009 09:37 am (UTC)
I remember that one - it's a Steve Allen film,isn't it? Splicing together scenes from old black and white films with new footage?

Good on you for ordering the book. I hope you enjoy it!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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