Yesterday I got my copy of Peter M. Ball’s novella Horn direct from Australia, and of course it was immediately bumped to the top of the reading list. The book daringly seeks to establish a new sub-genre with a hard-boiled noir story rooted in a world of unicorns and faeries. One of those ideas that would be disastrous in the hands of a weaker writer, but in Peter Ball’s hands it’s like sitting in a hot sun drying up your clothes after they’ve been soaked by a downpour of rain. (That was me, trying to do a noir simile. Clearly I don’t have Peter’s talent for it.)
Miriam Aster is an ex-cop and an ex-lover of the ex-Queen of Faery. Now she’s a PI, taking on cases with a bit too much magic and complexity for the guys at the precinct. When a dead girl shows up in a dumpster and a unicorn’s on the loose, only Aster realizes just how bad things can get. She has to crack the case before the unicorn in heat finds its next victim, if she can wind her way through the tricky magicks of the fae, the bureaucracy of the precinct, and the complexities of her relationship with a woman she swears she’s not in love with anymore.
OK, clearly I loved this novella. The noir voice keeps you reading and has just the right amount of irony and humor. And any time things start to slow down, Ball adds another layer of complexity to keep things interesting. Here’s one of my favorite passages:
I was looking for Heath Morrow, a morgue institution. … He preferred working the late shift and had a fetish for the odd cases, which meant he called me in every chance he got. I should have hated Heath, but we got on okay. For all his ambient creepiness, he never assumed I was crazy and he’d become more bearable since I’d come back to life on his autopsy table. His tendency to talk to my chest vanished after he’d cut me open. Apparently it’s hard to objectify someone once you’ve had a scalpel poking around their innards.
I had the privilege of seeing this one in its larval phase, so it’s a pleasure seeing it out in the world, a full-grown gorgeous butterfly (or moth – would moth be more appropriate for noir?). Twelfth Planet Press also did a great job with the packaging, with a knockout cover and a nice design overall. The quality of the book made me want to go out and check out more of their stuff.
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