Peter Hartog’s Bloodlines is the second novel I read in full as part of the Self-Published Science Fiction Competition, where my team sampled 10-20% of the 30 books assigned to us and then voted on ten to read to completion. But, unlike in my previous SPSFC review, I was a no vote on Bloodlines, putting it in the somewhat unusual position of being a book that I read that I didn’t especially want to read. To be clear, there was nothing in that first 20% that suggested this would be an especially bad book—the writing was smooth and professional, and the scene-setting was reasonably intriguing. I’m just a little worn down on SFF cop stories, and it didn’t catch my eye like it did some of the other judges on my team. So, with that caveat aside, let’s get to the review, understanding that tastes vary and this may not be to mine.
As I said, Bloodlines is a speculative cop story, set in a future New York after disasters have changed the complexion of the city, magic has emerged alongside continuously advancing science, and humanity has made contact with a friendly and breathtaking race of aliens. In this setting lives Tom “Doc” Holliday, once a star homicide detective who has been consigned to desk duty in the wake of personal tragedy. But an opportunity to join a motley but talented group in a new Special Crimes Unit provides a chance to resurrect his career, and he will need every bit of his inexplicable Insight to discern the events behind the mysterious body found entirely drained of blood.
As you might imagine from the setup, Bloodlines leans into a lot of the detective fiction tropes. First-person narration? Check. From an unusually talented detective? Check. With a checkered past? Check. (And an unhealthy obsession with coffee? Check.) Who gets another chance to prove himself on a highly unusual case? Check.
How that hits will depend in large part on how you feel about speculative detective fiction and its tropes. Hartog writes well, with smooth prose and a main character who feels fully realized. If you’re here for that kind of character and that kind of story, Bloodlines may be for you. But, as I said in the introduction, I’m a bit worn down on speculative detective stories, so I needed something extra to really suck me in to the novel.
And for the first half of the story, it looked like Bloodlines may deliver, with a host of strange plot threads coming together to create a compelling mystery, leaving me genuinely curious about what was so special about this girl and who would want her dead. But as the story progressed, I wearied of the villains behind villains and the murder that held the key to something much bigger. It’s a perfectly reasonable plot progression, with one of the clearest ways to raise the stakes beyond a single murder, and I expect it would satisfy someone looking for that kind of story. But right now, it’s just not for me. Add in a couple tropes I actively dislike—a hero whose first impressions seem to always come out right, a future protagonist who just happens to be obsessed with pop culture that contemporary readers would recognize, a frustrating amount of mystery revealed only by villains monologuing—and you have a recipe for my interest waning in the back half.
A strong setup, a smooth and compelling prose style, and a few genuinely intense scenes are enough to make Bloodlines worth a long look for fans of speculative detective stories. But its reliance on common tropes and a handful of foibles with both heroes and villains prevented me from really falling in love with this one.
Recommended if you like: grizzled detectives with checkered pasts.
Can I use it for Bingo? I suppose that being a sci-fi/fantasy mystery makes it a hard mode Genre Mashup, and it’s also First-Person and (obviously) Self-Published.
Overall rating: 11 of Tar Vol’s 20. Three stars on Goodreads.
SPSFC score: 5.5/10 for my personal score. We will await ratings from the remaining judges before releasing an official team score.