Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by Scott Sigler


Nocturnal isn't about vampires, as I'd first assumed when I read the blurb which refers to a race of killers lurking beneath San Francisco. It's closer to a police thriller featuring two homicide detectives, Bryan Clauser and Pookie Chang. Bryan is the black-clad moody hard man, whilst Pookie is his fast-talking comic relief. Pookie is set on writing his own cop show, so it's a bit meta. They are investigating a series of extremely gruesome murders that have some odd characteristics.

Bryan notices a strange smell at the first murder scene, and shortly after he starts to feel unwell. Then he has strange dreams. When these nightmares lead him to the locations of fresh murders and give him details only the killer would know, his partner suspects Bryan is actually the murderer. He has already killed several people in the line of duty. Those around him are afraid he's more cold-hearted than they first believed. But many of the victims are young men Bryan has never met, so he has no rational motive for the crimes.

The story is told from a variety of points of view, including that of Rex, an undersized boy of thirteen who gets picked on extensively. His mother Roberta takes a belt to his back for the slightest misdemeanour. Rex is a survivor of sex abuse, and a gang of bullies have been tormenting him. But he is changing. He draws pictures of his dreams of revenge, only to find that his drawings have a special power of their own.

Then there's Aggie, a street addict who is completely absorbed by his next fix until masked men carry him away. Aggie is chained up in a basement, where he witnesses horrors. He's coming clean, but the things he sees make him wish he could escape into oblivion and forget once more.

At the morgue Robin Hudson is busy doing autopsies on the murder victims, but the things she finds are increasingly hard to explain rationally. She's also frustrated that Bryan hasn't been back to talk to her after their break-up. Bryan is confused about his feelings for her, but he's also frustrated because the chief of police has expressly forbidden him and Pookie from looking into these murders. But the more they unearth, the more convinced they are that they're right to disobey orders. They suspect a cover-up at the top of the force that goes back decades.

This is quite a long and involved story, but it's also very pacy. The body count is high, and many of the deaths are gruesome. The monsters lurking in and under the city are also disgusting, and they are different in so many ways that it's a lot harder to believe in them. There seem to be hundreds of varieties of monster instead of the handful that would be likely according to the genetic explanation we're given, so Scott Sigler has sacrificed credibility in favour of spectacle. It's like the mutant gene in X-Men which produces whatever quirky superpowers the writers feel like including. And in spite of Nocturnal's modern-day setting it has a lot more in common with superhero comic stories than it does with straight police procedural dramas.

One thing I was less keen on was the macho nonsense coming from all sides. The characters tend to be extreme, either in their villainous nastiness or their willingness to shoot first. There's also a ridiculous part where grown men show absurd deference to their "king" in spite of his childish, petty and selfish commands. Any sane person would ignore him, but not these characters.

However there's more good than bad going on. I enjoyed Pookie's banter and the way he cracks jokes no matter how dire his circumstances are. And I was hooked by the mystery, and by Robin and Bryan's complicated relationship. The good guys are well rounded, and there's room for sympathy for their adversaries, and overall I found this a fast, absorbing story.

18th December 2012

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books

  Not For The Squeamish  

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