Something From The Nightside by Simon R. Green

January 15, 2008 at 1:42 pm (Reviews, Simon R. Green)

     “Private eyes come in all shapes and sizes, and none of them look like television stars. Some do insurance work, some hang around cheap hotels with camcorders hoping to get evidence for divorce cases, and damn few ever get to investigate complicated murder mysteries. Some chase things that don’t exist, or shouldn’t. Me, I find things. Sometimes I’d rather nor find them, but that comes with the territory.” – page 1

Simon R. Green - Something From The NightsideThus begins Simon R. Green’s Something from the Nightside, a book that makes itself clear from the onset in what it is not. The main character, John Taylor, finds things – as hinted above, he does not solve murder mysteries – and in this first book of the Nightside series, he is hired to find a runaway teen.

Wealthy businesswoman Joanna Barrett has tried nearly every investigator available to track down her missing daughter, and has met with a series of money-sapping disappointments. All she has gotten for her efforts are the names John Taylor and Nightside. In a last act of desperation, she hires Mr. Taylor to take her into Nightside and locate her daughter.

So what is the Nightside exactly? It’s set up as a square mile, that may or may not be much larger than a square mile, at the center of London. Or perhaps it’s more of an alternate reality, that is accessible through London. It’s never made clear how the Nightside connects to real world London, but then, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter, is that it is a bad, bad place. And in case you ever forget, the author will frequently remind you. Nightside a slum where creatures too horrible for the real world dwell. A place where both dreams and nightmares can, and will, come true.

I think we get the point: it’s a bad place. And five years prior, John Taylor, a man with a big, bad reputation, fled the Nightside for the sanctuary of the real world, vowing never to return. Only, business is scarce and money is tight, so when Ms. Barrett offers him a hefty sum to locate her daughter, he can’t possibly refuse.

Lack of murder mysteries aside, I was expecting something a bit more intricate from the plot. Maybe a nice little conspiracy. Oh, I got that, sure, but it was presented in such a straightforward manner, that I was a little disappointed. But, to the authors credit, he didn’t present the book as anything other than what it was. I suppose it was just wishful thinking on my part. Something from the Nightside comes off less as a detective novel, and more as a guided tour. Not that it’s a bad tour, mind.

The location takes center stage, and Simon R. Green squeezes some nice touches into it. We get to see Stangefellows, local bar, and hotspot for information, that’s haunted by the ghost of Merlin (though we don’t get to see him). There’s the Hawks Wind Bar & Grill, a restaurant that is itself a ghost. The Fortress, my personal favorite, which is a stronghold set up by alien abduction victims. There’s also a trip through a possible future.

But the focus on the locales takes it’s toll on the characters. Aside from Ms. Barrett, all of the other character are, basically, the same person. John Taylor, Suzie Shooter and Razor Eddie are the most notable of the bunch, and they are, all three, pretty generic tough-guys (or tough-girls in the case of Suzie). Sure, their backgrounds are all unique, but in the present, the only real difference between them is their choice of weapon (John has some indistinct magical gift, Suzie likes guns, and Eddie a straight-edge razor). The only thing in the way of character development, comes from laying down some basic mysteries behind John. Who was his mother, and why would him finding knowledge of her be so cataclysmic? What is the extent of John’s power?

But at only 230 pages, can we really expect more?

He does a fair job of laying out the John Taylor questions (and for that alone I may pick up the next volume), but otherwise the writing is simply… good enough. The prose itself is brisk and clear. Dialogue is smooth, and doesn’t try too hard to be edgy. Every time we come to a new character or location, Mr. Green treats the reader to a thorough explanation of them/it. And that’s before they actually show up. A page later, when we meet them, he puts in reminders of the same information. It was a little annoying, but the pacing was so fast that I didn’t have much time to dwell on it.

     “’Why aren’t there any windows?’ said Joanna, after a while.
     ‘Because you don’t want to see what’s outside,’ I said. ‘We have to travel through strange, harsh, places to reach the Nightside. Dangerous and unnatural places, that would blast the sight from your eyes and the reason from your mind. Or so I’m told. I’ve never felt like peeking.’
     ‘What about the driver? Doesn’t he have to see where he’s going?’
     ‘I’m not convinced there is a driver,’ I said thoughtfully. ‘I don’t know anyone who’s ever seen one. I think the trains have been running this route for so long now that they’re capable of running themselves.’
     ‘You mean there’s no-one human at the controls?’
     ‘Probably better that way. Humans are so limited.’ I smiled at her shocked face. ‘Sorry you came yet?’
     ‘No.’
     ‘Don’t worry. You will be.’”
– page 31-32

And that’s how most things are explained. “You’d rather not know.” In all fairness though, half the time he does go on to explain what those things are. The Nightside comes off as alternating between dark and whimsical. Still, the descriptions are, generally, little more than a lecture. But at least he admits it.

Overall Impression: Okay.

Final Thoughts: Something from the Nightside is a fast and, occasionally, fun book with a setting that is more interesting than its characters.

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