A hardboiled detective. A resourceful boy in dire straits. A killer spreading like sickness through the poor side of London. Forget good prevailing over evil. Sometimes, the best you can hope for is the lesser of two monsters.
John Persons should know better than to take things at face value, and it’s not just because he’s a private investigator. But when the snot nosed kid shows up at his office demanding–not requesting–help to protect his younger brother, Persons finds he can’t say no, and just as quickly finds himself caught up in a plot much larger than one body-snatching monster on the lose in the slums.
Like all good short fiction, this novella makes double use of language in a squishy kaleidoscope of color, motion, smells, sounds, and gut feelings. It draws a beautiful metaphor for the idea of justice and protection of innocents, asking, through the existence of a man-shaped monster determined to solve crimes and vanquish demons, what we really give up when we relegate protecting the populace to a detached–and often dangerous–policing force, when community outsources its role to an arm of capitalism instead of taking responsibility for its own members.
It’s also just a really well-developed twisty horror noir on its own.
Khaw narrates through the voice of Persons himself, whose own personality is reflected and refracted through the mind of the man he’s inhabiting. Creating a noir inflection without resorting solely to tropes and repetition is no small feat, and Khaw’s prose is delightfully anchored in the horrors Persons has seen and perpetrated in his long life. This is the kind of writing one could spend a lifetime mastering, and is a pleasure to get one’s tentacles on.