"Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone" Book Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Published by Trepidatio Publishing
Written by Michael Griffin
2017, 200 pages, Fiction
Released on February 24, 2017
I had my first experience with Michael Griffin’s words last summer when I read his collection of novellas and short stories, The Lure of Devouring Light. It made an instant fan of me and I was something approaching ecstatic when I found out his newest work, Hieroglyphs of Blood & Bone, from Trepidatio Publishing, was headed to my mailbox. Griffin has a uniquely captivating style and a voice all his own, and every story he writes is different from the last. Even when taking on familiar themes, he approaches his subject in a singularly original way, making the familiar seem new and the new seem somehow familiar.
Hieroglyphs of Blood & Bone is the story of a guy—named Guy—who has basically hit rock bottom. His wife has divorced him, he’s stuck in a dead-end job, and he’s living on a houseboat with a callous young co-worker that he has little to nothing in common with. But it doesn’t take long for things to start getting weird and that’s one of Griffin’s major strengths. His story very subtly starts getting strange and mysteries begin to accumulate seemingly by the bucketful until you find yourself wondering how he’s ever going to tie everything up in a satisfactory manner.
One of the many things great writers do, and that Michael Griffin does so exceptionally well, is to start his reader out already in the story, already sensing conflict and having questions raised immediately right from the beginning:
“Since my divorce, I’ve been staying with Karl. He’s constantly saying my real problem is that I’m too passive around women, and that’s probably why Michelle ended things. Because this is Karl’s place, I have to listen to him, at least pretend to appreciate the advice. But the two of us are so different, he’s incapable of understanding me. Different backgrounds. Opposite temperaments.”
With that opening paragraph, we’re introduced to two of the major players and we’re presented with a small mystery, a subtle hint of things to come as we progress.
There are some in this industry who believe that the term “slow burn” is a derogatory one, somehow dissing the pacing of a story due to a lack of action or suspense. And I sometimes agree, though in those cases I simply use the word “slow,” but I would highly recommend Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bones if you want to see what happens when the slow burn is executed well. Michael Griffin is very much a cerebral writer and it’s reflected in all his stories, but none so much as here. He takes you on a psychological terror-trip, slowly building dread and suspense while delivering one of the most lucidly surreal stories I’ve ever read. You reach a point where, like Guy, you’re no longer sure what’s real or imagined, or if it even matters. His experiences with Lily, the enigmatic stranger he meets by chance while on a fishing trip, are nothing short of bizarre. Time seems to warp whenever he’s with her. There are scenes that last for days or weeks or minutes—you’re never sure—but seem to Guy as if no time at all has passed, the events as ephemeral as a snowflake on a warm sidewalk:
“I explore the room, try to read pages in darkness, venture outside, observe seasons changing in the field. Here I find proof of the passage of time, growth and death and decay. Fragile ornaments hung on trees, or shapes drawn in ash and soot on barren geometries of earth. Scattered letterforms in bone, expressions in blood. Some vanish, others appear. These changes prove we are living through more than one night.”
More than anything, this book is a character study, and a damned good one at that, as Guy slowly loses himself and then passes through a stage of self-discovery and transformation, finally coming to a strange understanding of the portents that foretold the final and unexpected moments of the story. And this is where the true brilliance of Michael Griffin’s work shines through. He winds his story up convincingly and logically, but no matter where you might think he’s leading you, my money says you’re dead wrong. There are arcane signs and symbols throughout the book, both metaphoric and physical, and it’s obvious almost from the very start that these things are leading you somewhere. But puzzle it out to your heart’s content and you’ll still be surprised when you get to the final destination.
I’ve been super fortunate over the time spanning the summer of 2016 to spring of 2017 in that I’ve discovered a lot of new and new-to-me authors. And most of them have been damn good, some great, with a spare few reaching the lofty status of stellar. Michael Griffin, in my estimation, sits firmly in that latter category. He’s an extremely intelligent, creative individual that I’ll follow closely in his career, and I’ll read anything he produces from here out. I think you should too, starting right here with Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone.