Hounds of the Underworld (The Path of Ra Book 1)
Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray
Raw Dog Screaming Press
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
Forensics expert Pandora ‘Penny’ Yee is strictly science oriented. If it can’t be weighed, measured, counted, or explained by long, complex chemical formulae, it doesn’t truly fit into her world. Sole owner of the newly founded Yee Scientific Consultancy, she has just landed a commission from the police to examine a crime scene and test the evidence. And what a crime scene: blood everywhere, the victim’s clothing strewn about, an anomalous pseudo-native bowl filled with blood. Everything except a body. And in the windowless, locked room, there is nowhere to hide it and no way to move it without leaving traces.
Matiu Yee is the diametrical opposite of his adopted older sister. Belligerent, moody, tattooed in full Maori style, he is mystical. He knows—has known all his life—that he lives with one foot in this world and one in another realm of darkness and terror that he can never explain or describe. He is the loner with a troubled past, one that neither he nor Penny wish to explain to the authorities. And worse: he has an invisible friend, Makere, who not only speaks to him but seems recently to foreshadow the arrival of some great evil.
Matiu has accompanied Penny to the crime scene as her driver; and the moment he sets eyes on the room, he knows that something is horribly wrong:
Spread out before him in shades of blood and bone he can see the shape of human history to come. Gradual decay and violent collapse all rolled into one brutal augury which he, for all his cursed vision, is too blind to comprehend. Like rot and sand and despair, and this stink of death just a distraction. An afterthought.
His initial impulse is to drag Penny away; hers is to solve this complex mystery and thereby put her company on a firmer financial footing. Yet the longer they linger, the more each becomes convinced that there is infinitely more to this crime than merely a gruesome murder.
Together, they explore the Aukland of the 2040s, through scenes of economic collapse, material shortages, and savagery human, canine…and Other, seeking clues as to what has happened and why, and what that means for all of humanity.
The book combines elegant, poetical prose with blunt, reportorial sentences, as befits the fact that two such differing perceptions struggle to deal with the same sets of evidence. Penny insists on finding the ‘true’ scientific explanation; Matiu intuits things darker and more ominous, valuing his feelings above such niceties as scientific protocol and police procedures.
The result is a fascinating blend of action and meditation as the world of science confronts the reality that something is breaking through from another sphere, something lethal and awful and horrifying. Matiu sees it and dares not try to define it; Penny only glimpses it and immediately begins to rationalize it away.
But truth is truth, and by the end of Hounds of the Underworld, there is sufficient suggestion (supported by the subtitle) that, in addition to the unique worldview of Maori New Zealand, elements of the ancient and intricate lore of Pharaonic Egypt are about to be unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. For the moment, the great evil that Matiu senses has been halted—and the vicious murderer that Penny discovers has been stymied. But it has not been defeated, just as human greed for power, control, and life cannot be defeated; and there will be another confrontation between the scientific world of Penny Yee and the mystical world of her brother, Matiu in coming volumes.
(Just as a side note: I read the novel in one day, in two sittings. Not that it is particularly short, but rather that it sweeps the reader into a powerful conflict between light and dark, good and evil, that is both impelling and compelling.)