Hey! Wanna read a detective story? Guess what? This one has some booze, gamblin’, fast talkin’ dames and a very strange breed of villain. What? You’ve read this type of story before. Well my friend, you haven’t read the story as written by Adam Pepper.
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 something, trying to kill Mackenzie Blake?
A symphony plays that only It can hear. But there will be a special performance, just for her.
I have read my fair share of stories involving hard characters living hard lives. These are my people. These are the ones who are always down on their luck with their only comfort being poured from a bottle. These are the characters that this hard drinkin’ guy likes to read about. The thing is, most of these stories are fairly one-dimensional (yet still thoroughly enjoyable). Symphony of Blood is your standard hard-boiled detective story with your standard hard-boiled detective, Hank Mondale. Hank is a man who “has a big gambling problem and a small drinking problem.” See, the thing that sets Symphony of Blood apart from the rest of the pack is the writing. Pepper’s words stink of neglected humanity as they coat the soul in a dull veneer that can only come with a life that has seen its fair share of bad luck. He takes the tried-and-true formula and executes it with brilliant perfection. The words stick with you like the morning aches after a bar room brawl.
Pepper embraces all of the clichés that would trip up a less talented author. Pepper simply knows how to construct a truly likeable and charming character, so these cliché’s feel completely fresh as they are filtered through Hank Mondale. Pepper writes with a confidence and mastery that makes you feel as if you are being led on a tour of the seedier side of life, and your tour guide is a man who basks in the grimy filth of the gutter.
I firmly believe that Hank Mondale could end up being one of the best modern incarnations of the classic detective. Unfortunately, Pepper doesn’t play the story as a straight detective pulp. Instead, he chooses to add a very unique supernatural element to the tale as the villain seems like a weak escapee from the Todash Space. The villain itself was an interesting choice but Pepper lost me when he switched perspectives and told roughly a quarter of the story from this creature’s point-of-view. Now, I applaud Pepper for taking such a risky chance by changing the perspective so drastically, but for this reader, it simply didn’t work. The change was so jarring that it took me almost 15 pages to really get back into the the story and then once we shift back to Hank’s perspective, well, the story had lost a lot of momentum. If the story had not strayed from Hank’s perspective, I think we may be talking about a contender for the best detective story of the year.
Symphony of Blood is a testament to Pepper’s ability to create something new and intriguing in a sub-genre that is very well worn. I just hope that if Pepper returns to the world of Hank Mongrove, he chooses to let his stellar prose and vivid characters play center stage as opposed to risky plot-points.