The Unnatural Inquirer: A Novel of The Nightside
by Simon R. Green
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441015580
Date: 02 January 2008 List Price $21.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
What if a DVD contained absolute proof of the afterlife? What would that be worth?
The Nightside's most formidable private eye is about to find out the hard way.
That's the situation in The Unnatural Inquirer, the new Nightside novel by Simon R. Green. In the wake of a massive war and a reshuffling of the social order, the Nightside is in some turmoil, but some things never change -- especially John Taylor being drawn into the middle of the worst trouble for the "dark heart of London".
The story begins with Taylor and his lover Shotgun Suzie chasing down Max Maxwell, the Voodoo Apostate, a crime boss who holds the Aquarius Key. This powerful artifact is sought by the gods of Voodoo, who also want Max dead. The trail leads Taylor and Suzie into a haunted amusement park, where a showdown quickly becomes a three-way battle and forces an unlikely alliance.
After that, Taylor is drawn into a scramble for a DVD that shows proof of the afterlife. Taylor has been hired by Gaylord du Rois, editor of the Nightside's own legendary (and despicable) tabloid, The Unnatural Inquirer. Taylor's job is to track down Pen Donavon, the man who created the DVD after giving his TV a mad-scientist makeover, and acquire the DVD for the Inquirer. After all, they paid for it.
Of course, nothing ever goes that smoothly for Taylor. He's partnered with a half-demonic girl reporter named Bettie Divine and sent out against some of the Nightside's current heavy hitters (series fans will recall that most of the Nightside's powerhouses were wiped out in the Lilith War (see Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth). They include: General Condor, former commander of a space-going fleet but now beached in the Nightside; Uptown Taffy Lewis, a nouveau riche land baron nearly as ruthless as he is ambitious; Queen Helena, ruler of the distant Ice Kingdoms; and Kid Cthulhu, whose hideous appearance hides an even more evil personality.
Each of them wants the DVD for their own reasons; each would happily destroy Taylor, his friends, and the Nightside itself to get it.
But as Taylor and Bettie follow Donavon's trail, through the lair of the Collector and the ancient Londinium Club and a club for Nightside reporters, they realize things don't add up ... and even finding Pen Donavon may not help, once they realize what they're truly up against.
Sometimes the truth is more dangerous than a lie.
Trust Green to offer up a story with plenty of twists and turns. The mystery is as sharp as ever, with hints dropped strategically as the investigators approach the final moment of truth. There are also plenty of new characters and a strong showing by the series regulars, particularly Shotgun Suzie, Nightside's resident lawman Walker, bar owner Alex Morrissey, and the Collector (a friend of Taylor's father from the old days). The antagonists are clever and well-drawn, providing suitable (if largely temporary) obstacles to Taylor and Bettie.
Now that so many of Taylor's secrets have been revealed and the meta-plot of the first Nightside books is a book or two in the past, there is markedly less mystery attending the character of John Taylor. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there's less of the unexpected about him now. To compensate for this, Green partners Taylor with a relative innocent (okay, she's half-succubus, but still ...) whose idealized vision of Taylor doesn't always match up with reality. This offers a new window into a character we've come to know very well, which is a nice element in the book.
One troubling plot point is why the DVD is so important. The Nightside -- a place where literally anything seems to be possible, where mythic figures come and go -- doesn't seem like the sort of place that would get riled at the thought of proof of the afterlife, one way or the other. Heck, anywhere that's seen a literal invasion of angels would probably have that all sorted out. MacGuffins are common in detective fiction, but the singular importance of this one might have been better explained.
Still, fans of genre-bending detective stories will find John Taylor is their guy, and fans of the series will enjoy this latest installment.