My review of Nightingales Lament by Simon R. Green
In Nightingale’s Lament Green has written a noir scape with pleasantly teasing references to the world Bogie inhabited in The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon with diverging fantasy flares to mark his own stamp on the genre. I remember my first experience of what you would call fantasy noir: Terry Practchett’s Discworld Noir computer game. It had a great feel of the genre, with that tweaked Discworld humour and the big scary monsters (big cheesy grin right now) that inhabited the Discworld. I get the same feeling from Green’s Nightside and sometimes as I read Nightingale’s Lament you could actually hear the sound of jazz playing in the background and the swish of a trench coat as John walks down the street.
I have really enjoyed the Nightside books and for me to connect and understand a character I need to see them bloodied, bruised and backed into a corner (wonder what that says about me, paging Freud) and in John you get this in spades (noir pun intended). He gets pushed about and beat up a lot as he interacts with various bad guys, but keeps on coming back. You can’t let a damsel in distress down. The one aspect of the character I am still on the fence about is his ‘magic’, but I think I will wait and see how it pans out in the later books.
In Nightingale’s Lament the concept put forward for the ‘bad guy’ was good but I never got the chill or shiver of evilness that a real twisted character can give you. Green’s idea of how they achieve immortality was a nice twist but they just didn’t stick in my mind, they were no Blofeld to Bond. I had no internal woohoo when they finally got their comeuppance.
In contrast to the main villain, what stood out for me was the fate of the previous singer who went missing. I can still picture the scene in my head when John finally tracks her down. It’s still vivid, not for its gruesomeness, but for its implications on the human consciousness: that need for desire and fulfilment, internally, externally, what some do to achieve it and what some do to hold on to it. Green details this struggle and the consequences expertly in how John and the singer interact and once you read it you will remember it.
I found the directness of the story refreshing. The books are short and try not to fill the pages too much with inconsequential plots and off shoots, you ride shotgun with John from beginning to end. I personally like to think of it as a TV series with new characters each episode, bringing unique angles and opposing viewpoints and it’s a great addition. The internal monologue for John is also effective, chronicling his fears, doubts and resolve for the reader.
I love the thought of a world where anything is possible, every dream and nightmare can come true and things unimaginable walk the streets preying on the weak and being prayed upon. I just find it a little too convenient for a story to have a get out of jail free card, to cover any weak spots or just add random elements, like Vegetarian Vampires roaming the streets looking to score some ketchup and broccoli by singing Time Warp on street corners (Count Duckula joke). In a world of endless possibilities there has to be a few boundaries otherwise the cornucopia of weird and wonderful becomes the mundane and nothing can surprise you or engage you. I not am saying this is bad but a little restraint so a long a way.
*** Spoiler (kind-off) ***
The client is a ghost. The reason I feel justified in advertising this as it adds nothing to the plot, it’s irrelevant and can be considered just another mystery of the Nightside, hmmmmmm ok.
*** Spoiler end ***
There are not too many things I dislike about these novels but the one that stands out is the recurrent monologues in each and every book. There is such a repetition of John’s internal thoughts and basic story elements that it feels like Green is trying to tell the story afresh for each reader, as if they have not read the previous books. Yes we get it, we know the affects when John uses his gift, and how its attracts his enemies (who are a chilling enemy, childhood fears for John, very Doctor Who and The Silence – methinks this one was pinched for DW…) and how you are looking for your mummy (mummies boy!).
Overall I can’t fault this story, it’s everything it says it is on the cover: noir, fantasy, funny at times, chilling at others. There is always a place where the old and new things of the world can come to either be reborn or die. Welcome to the Nightside, and yes we know its always 3am. One question, where is the kebab shop! It is 3am after all.
Further recommendation for a good read if you like the concept of Nightside, try the Abarat series. The realms of variety and possibility are very similar, Nightside is dark and wild while Abarat has pockets of colour, textures and light but would be considered more PG.
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