Science fiction and fantasy
by Scott Sigler
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
If you like this, try:Written In The Blood by Stephen Lloyd Jones
A young woman with the power to change her appearance is tasked with saving her kind from extinction. Unfortunately, people like her are more hunted than she knows.
Last Days by Adam Nevill
A hard-up documentary maker investigates a sinister 70s cult, only to discover that its horrors are not all in the past.
Empire State by Adam Christopher
Superheroes, robots and strange memory blocks baffle a private eye in this retro mystery.
Review © Ros Jackson