Simon Green, Nightingale's Lament — A Novel of The Nightside (Ace, 2004)

Taylor is the name, John Taylor. My card says I'm a detective, but what I really am is an expert on finding lost things. It's part of the gift I was born with as a child of the Nightside. I left there a long time ago, with my skin and sanity barely intact. Now I make my living in the sunlit streets of London. But business has been slow lately, so when Joanna Barrett showed up at my door, reeking of wealth, asking me to find her runaway teenage daughter, I didn't say no. Then I found out exactly where the girl had gone. The Nightside. that square mile of Hell in the middle of the city, where it's always three a.m. Where you can walk beside myths and drink with monsters. Where nothing is what it seems and everything is possible. I swore I'd never return. But there's a kid in danger and an woman depending on me. So I have no choice — I'm going home...

— from Something from the Nightside

Imagine if you will a darker version of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and its setting, London Below. Now further imagine that in this place, The Nightside — like John Ostrander's Cynosure where Grimjack has very much a similar trade to that of John Taylor, our detective here — all the dimensions, all the times, drift together. And it's always three a.m. here — quite literally the darkest time of the night. But as I said in my review of the first novel in this series, Something from the Nightside The Nightside series 'differs from Neverwhere in several meaningful ways. The first is that this is a mystery series, something that the Gaiman novel really wasn't. Yes, there's a mystery at the core of that novel, but the novel itself is clearly within the fantasy/urban genre and not within the fantasy/mystery genre. The richly textured background is ofttimes the story in Neverwhere, but never here. Now, I admit John Taylor is not a private detective per se, but he has a knack for finding lost things — as did Orient in Emma Bull's urban fantasy novel, Finder, but he acts and dresses like a private dick straight out of some noir novel. For pity's sake, he wears a long leather jacket and lives in his crummy office! That's why a lovely but brittle woman has hired him to descend into the Nightside, a realm in the center of London where Hell itself can look good by comparison and the sun never shines. Literally never shines, as it's always night.

On the surface, Detective John Taylor has an easy case: a parent has hired him find his daughter, a woman now known as The Nightingale. Her voice has inexplicably caused her fans to suicide — just a few so far, but Taylor is determined to stop her before all who hear her decide to take that long dive into oblivion. (Digression — death is hardly final. And dying can result in something worse than living. Far, far worse.) But to catch the swift-winged Nightingale, he'll have to hear her deadly music — and survive. Keep in mind that I'm not even sure Taylor is mortal as the author has dropped hints that there is indeed something of a supernatural nature to him (including the ability to teleport objects, say your heart to outside your body), so that won't be too hard!

(I will submit that The Nightingale isn't the most original of characters as she's but a banshee into the goth scene. No big deal there. The banshee in Kara Dalkey's 'Nightwail' tale for Life on the Border, the very first Bordertown anthology that Terri Windling edited, is a more interesting being.)

Simon writes some of the coolest narrative I've ever read. Here's bit from a scene in Caliban's Cavern where The Nighingale's about to sing:

Set off by a single bright spotlight, a huge stylised black bird, (presumably someone's idea of a nightingale,) covered most of the wall behind the stage. It look threatening, wild, ominous. Looking around, I could see the design everywhere on the fans, on t-shirts, jackets, tattoos, and silver totems hanging on silver chains. I could also see the celebrities jammed in the crowd like everyone else, their hanger-ons struggling to form protective circles around them. There were no real movers or shakers, but I could see famous faces here and there. Sebastian Stargrave, The Fractured Protagonist; Deliverance Wilde, fashion consultant to the Faerie; and Sandra Chance, the Consulting Necromancer. Also very much in evidence were the super-group Nazgul, currently on a comeback tour of the Nightside with their new vocalist. They looked just as freaked and and excited as everyone else.

The names in this paragraph remind me of the amazing narrative shorthand he uses to create characters. Just take Deliverance Wilde, fashion consultant to the Faerie, who would to my thinking be quite possibly Oscar Wilde who believed in and wrote about the Irish Fey. And the reference to the Nazgul is just one of many times that he plays a riff off popular culture as I'm sure the Nazgul are the same band that George R.R. Martin created in his novel, The Armageddon Rag, where the lead vocalist for Nazgul gets his head blown off at a concert that made the Rolling Stones gig at Altamont look peaceful. This entire series — which must be read in order — is a bit thin on plot development, but oh so much fun to read. Even characters from his other writing such as Drinking Midnight Wine can be found here. In a real sense, The Nightside is the cynosure for all his other writing, a place where characters from disparate metaverses meet up.

Detective John Taylor would be home anywhere in the metaverse where there's a drink on the bar, dames in trouble, bad guys to overcome, and a pay-off (preferably in cash) at the end of the case. And it doesn't matter if you're dead as you still must pay him! Will he save The Nightingale? Who is her father really? And does either question really matter? No, because the plot isn't about The Nightingale, but about describing a really weird place and its, errr, unusual inhabitants.

Nightingale's Lament has everything I like in an urban fantasy novel — an interesting and very cool protagonist, snappy dialogue, loads of violence, a smidgen of sex, weird characters, a bit of a mystery, and a pacing that never lets up. Add in that John Taylor is evolving — yes, evolving — as a character and you have a series that go on for years to come. Call it dark fantasy, call urban fantasy, call it horror if you want — just read it! I've read all three of these as advance copies before they came out in the bookstores and am eagerly awaiting the next one now. Indeed they are so good that they've all spoiled me for reading anything right after I finish one!


[Cat Eldridge]