Fiction Reviews

Damned if You Do in the Nightside

(2010) Simon R. Green, Solaris, £7.99, trdpbk, 518pp, ISBN 978-1-906735-62-3

'The Nightside' is the underside of London; not mapped on to the known plan of the city, like the television series some years ago, but a completely alternative reality in which the rules of magic dominate. The jacket states “it’s always raining, it’s always 3 am and beings human and inhuman walk the streets in pursuit of ambition and unspeakable pleasures” – not strictly accurate, but enough to suggest the atmosphere.

Damned if You Do unites Hell to Pay and The Unnatural Inquirer that are the seventh and eighth novels in this book's series. The central character is John Taylor, a Private Investigator – that and the title of the tabloid show the American influence, and evidently Simon Green is a New York Times best-selling author, but the US influence in this alternative London is not heavy enough to spoil the fun.

Taylor is a force to be reckoned with, a major player in a recent conflict which has left the Nightside without leadership. Although he has very powerful allies, he is vulnerable, and much of the action in Hell to Pay is dependent on the suppression of his paranormal powers. He is hired by the immortal Jeremiah Griffin, literally at the top of the Nightside heap, whose plan to fill the power vacuum is interrupted by the disappearance of his granddaughter. Without his powers, Taylor is forced to resort to traditional PI legwork, and he’s surprisingly inept at it. The refusal of the family members to talk to him forces him to follow them around, giving us an entertaining review of Nightside attractions – the Caligula Club, the Arcadian Project, Hecate’s Tea Room, the Roll a Dice, the Street of the Gods, Divas! – and a succession of good jokes, but making very slow progress on the actual plot. The plot is straightforward enough that to say anything about it would spoil it – just try not to think of an even older TV series, also set in London, when Taylor first gets to Griffin Hall.

The Unnatural Inquirer is the tabloid that everyone on the Nightside wants to be in or wants to avoid; unfortunately its living tableaux and near-to-real-time updates are very like the newspaper in the Harry Potter films. A half-human girl reporter on the make dogs Taylor from when he takes on their case, hunting for a DVD claimed to have evidence of the Afterlife, whose owner has disappeared. I would say ‘mysteriously disappeared’, but when everything is unnatural, nothing is really mysterious – not even that Taylor’s gift is shut down again as soon as he takes up the search. The other missing element in both books is Taylor’s live-in girlfriend, Suzie Shooter, who’s off on another assignment in both, though we’re promised we’ll see more in the sample chapter of the next novel, Just Another Judgement Day. Meanwhile, off we go to the H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Library, the Spider’s Web, Fun Faire, the Hawk’s Wind Bar and Grille, Objets du Temps Perdu… with another round of exotic characters and the unending flow of jokes. It seems that in Just Another Judgement Day something much bigger is going to happen, with new powers bidding to take over dominance of the Nightside, so there is a feeling that we’ve just been in a two-part interlude. But if you like this type of pastiche, the imagination, the pace and the jokes are enough to keep the pages turning.

Duncan Lunan

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