Written by Simon R. Green
Published by Ace
John Taylor has spent the last few years trying to forget his past. From a dingy office in a bad part of London, he works as a private eye, assisted greatly by a supernatural (literally) ability to find anything that someone wants found. He can’t pay the rent, sleeps on the sofa in his office, and generally exists as an embodiment of every P.I. cliche in the book. That is, until his newest client walks in the door. Joanna Barrett is a very wealthy woman, and her daughter has gone missing. Sounds like little trouble, until Ms. Barrett mentions where her daughter is believed to have gone: Nightside.
Nightside is Taylor’s home, or was. It’s the dark heart of London, possibly of the world, a place where it’s always 3 a.m. and where anything can be bought for the right price. Nightside is a magical place, inaccessible to most ordinary people, but Taylor isn’t ordinary. He’s not sure what he is, exactly, as he has no idea who (or what) gave birth to him…only that it was horrible enough that his father drank himself to death shortly thereafter. Taylor has been running from Nightside for years, because for some reason a large number of very powerful people there seem to want him dead, for reasons he’s never been clear on. But he needs the money. Badly. And the girl could be in serious trouble if she stumbled into Nightside accidentally or fell in with the wrong crowd once she got there. So Taylor takes the case, and must step back into the dangerous world that he’s been trying to forget, risking his life to find some pampered rich girl runaway before she gets herself killed, or worse.
Simon Green has, with his Nightside books, fused the best elements of gritty urban fantasy with the best elements of hard-boiled noir detective fiction to create something like Mickey Spillane’s version of Neil Gaiman‘s Neverwhere. Taylor is a fantastic character, a hard-luck story that happens to be immensely powerful. His magical talent for finding things, coupled with a little bit of wizardry and his mysterious origins, lets him bluff and bluster through encounters with angels, demons, vampires, and thousand-year-old monsters bent on his destruction. The character drips with attitude, and the cast of supporting characters is equally entertaining, from Shotgun Suzie, the near-psychopathic gun nut that backs him up on the job when he needs muscle, to Razor Eddie, the Punk God of the Straight-Razor, a trenchcoated figure that lurks in alleyways and appears to slice and dice people that he feels have it coming.
The writing is solid, with excellent dialogue and description, though the actual plot of this particular mystery often seems to take a back seat to Green’s exploration of his created world. The world of Nightside is sufficiently interesting, however, that I didn’t much mind the sidetracking to explore its inhabitants or notable locales. You can also sense that Green has really done his homework on the hard-boiled genre…the book reads like decades-old detective fiction. The cadence, pacing, and descriptive choices are all reminiscent of the genre from which he is drawing his inspiration. It’s nice to see someone unconcerned with the economy of their writing, when the going trend (even in “pulpier” genre fiction) is for terse, direct prose with minimal embellishment. There was a time when a broad vocabulary made for a better author, and perhaps that time is about to come back around. If I wanted to read a bunch of wannabe Hemingways writing sci-fi and fantasy…well, I can’t actually imagine wanting that, so there you go.
If you’re looking for some quality beach reading, this is a great choice. With three other Nightside books in print, there’s more of Taylor’s antics to feed your interest if this first installment hooks you like it hooked me.