Book review: Hounds of the Underworld, by Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray

23 03 2018

Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray are New Zealand speculative fiction writers and editors. Between them, they’ve won several Sir Julius Vogel and Australian Shadows awards; they’ve also collaborated as editors on two award-winning anthologies, Baby Teeth and At The Edge. I’ve previously reviewed Murray’s delightfully gruesome Into The Mist (a sort of tuatara daikaiju novel) here.

HoundsOfTheUnderworld

Hounds of the Underworld is the pair’s first joint novel, and the first in the ‘The Path of Ra’ sequence. It’s a noirish tale of unexplained disappearances and inexplicable crime scenes played out within the festering underbelly of 2040s Auckland and its surrounds, as brother-and-sister investigating team Matiu and Pandora (‘Penny’) try to determine whether a puddle of strange blood in a building’s basement is in any way connected with the fate of the building’s missing owner, Darius Fletcher. There’s an ominous atmosphere from the outset, and plenty of sparks between the siblings: technically it’s freelance analytical biochemist Penny’s investigation, but her terminally micromanaging parents have foisted her beefy younger brother on her as a chauffeur and bodyguard, and Matiu (who pretty much plays Mulder to Penny’s Scully) has an annoying but lifesaving tendency to butt in when the eldritch hazards faced by Penny—to which, with her clinically rational mind, she’s mostly blind—are apparent to him. (Or if not to him, then at least to Makere, his malevolent invisible friend.)

This is an intriguing technohorror procedural that, for the most part, juggles its diverse components with enviable skill. If it’s anchored by the vivid sibling-rivalry skirmishes between Penny and Matiu, it definitely helps that the supporting cast—their heavily-entitled parents, Hing and Kiri Yee, who run the country’s largest still-active fleet of hire vehicles; Penny’s overeager hired help, lab tech Grant ‘Beaker’ Deaker, who might be more than a little smitten with his boss; and Matiu’s troubled, mysterious birth mother, Mārama—are genuinely interesting and well-realised characters in their own right, who presumably will reappear in subsequent instalments in the series.

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