Imagine Harry Dresden loose in a Neil Gaiman-style world, and you'll have some idea of what's going on in the world of the Nightside.
And the dark supernatural underbelly of London is no less alluring -- and dangerous -- in the second omnibus of Simon R. Green's urban fantasy series, containing the shortish novels "Nightingale's Lament" and "Hex in the City." And it's still full of action, grotesque danger, bizarre creatures and crimes that only an expert "finder" can solve.
In "Nightingale's Lament," John Taylor is approached by Parisian banker Charles Chabron, who asks him to help him with his daughter, a nightclub singer called Rossignol. Not only has the girl withdrawn from everyone except her management, but her sad songs are driving people to suicide. And when John starts investigating Rossignol, he finds that she is always in a depressed, drugged stupor and her managers the Cavendishes keep her isolated.
After one of her fans shoots off his own head during a concert, John joins forces with the zombieesque Dead Boy, and starts prowling around for the last singer that the Cavendishes took under their wings. Turns out that Sylvia Sin has become something inhuman and horrifically desirable -- and the Cavendishes have done something even more terrible to Rossignol. Rescuing the trapped nightingale will stretch John's abilities to the limit... and he may not be able to truly save her.
And things get more personal when John Taylor has "Hex in the City." After a disastrous auction where the chaos butterfly attracts some unwanted bidders, Lady Luck herself -- who exudes luck both bad and good -- hires John for the ultimate "find" mission: discover the origins of the Nightside itself. If he can do that, then she will give him the information he desperately wants, about the missing mother whom he can't even remember.
After consulting a grumpy wishing well, John joins forces with the Madman and Sinner ("Please get him out of here. You don't know what it's like, having him around. The screams and the howls and the rains of blood") to unearth the darkest secrets of the Nightside. But there are a lot of people who don't want John to succeed -- including Walker and the Reasonable Men -- and the secret of his mother's identity may be too terrible...
Transvestite superheroes, Sister Morphine, temporal triplets, the ghost of Merlin Satanspawn, Hell's Neanderthals, teenybopper-goth groupies, a ragged and homeless Herne the Hunter, and a twerpy probability-shifting guy called Count Entropy. Even if Simon R. Green had no writing ability whatsoever, the world he conjures in the Nightside series would be worth the read -- dripping with darkness, eccentricity and utterly twisted fantasy-noir humor.
Admittedly Simon R. Green fills his noir/urban fantasy novels with a little too much tough-guy wisecracking, and it's a bit annoying that John deals with everything by saying, "I'm John Taylor." But Green does a pretty solid job overall -- and while "Nightingale's Lament" is a pretty straightforward noir-soaked fantasy, "Hex and the City" expands the storyline to epic proportions, with revelations that can affect all of the Nightside.
And Green's spare, slightly bizarre prose is suited to the stories. He has a knack for describing things ("the neon signs were flickering on again, like road signs in Hell") and his dialogue is just as fun ("The octopus is off, but we hope to recapture it soon. And don't ask for the chameleon, because we can't find it").
John Taylor is your average noir anti-hero in the Raymond Chandler mold -- a little grizzled, cynical, and always with a snappy remark at the ready. He's backed by a cast of incredibly bizarre characters, including the pragmatic, ghoulish, booze-swigging Dead Boy, the Madman who reshapes reality, the tragic Rossignol, and the amiable Sinner who belongs neither in Heaven nor in Hell (so he just sort of hangs around the mortal realm).
"Haunting the Nightside" brings together one good and one great urban fantasy, both exploring the dark slimy niches of the Nightside. Definitely a good read.