Archive for Simon R. Green

A Hard Day’s Knight

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2013 by crookedreviews

Simon R. Green does love his punny titles. A Hard Day’s Knight picks up immediately after The Good, the Bad and the Uncanny left off. John just gets home from rescuing Tommy Oblivion and killing Walker and is looking forward to some down time with Suzie when she give him some unpleasant news. Something came in the post for him. And when he spots it, that something looks suspiciously sword shaped.

And it is Excalibur. Someone has sent it through ordinary post to John. But why him? If there was every anyone not worthy to hold such an item, its John. And yet clearly he’s meant to be carrying it for some reason. It feels right to pick it up and wield it. When Suzie reaches for it, she just knows that she’s not worthy enough to touch it.

In order to find out the answer to his question, he has to go out to London Proper, to find the London Knights. The London Knights are the descendants of King Arthur’s original round table knights. They have been training down the centuries for the time that Excalibur would come back into the world and Arthur would wake from his long sleep. They know more about the myth and legend (and facts) that is King Arthur than any group or person.

Of course, since they are descended from Arthur’s knights, they very much disapprove of the Nightside and all its denizens (this includes the practically saintly Julien Advent). They are not happy that John has Excalibur rather than one of them, but the Lady of the Lake pops in and tells them all to grow up. Some of you Green fans might recognize the Lady of the Lake, Gayle (Gaea-Mother Earth) from Drinking Midnight Wine. Green so does love to intertwine his story lines, which I love.

John has a destiny (which he really isn’t a happy about). He is to wake Arthur and prevent the Elves from going to civil war with each other. Of course, no one knows exactly where Arthur is sleeping, but that’s minor details! Especially when the aforementioned Elves break into the London Knights’ demesne of Castle Inconnu.  There is a great battle where much ass is kicked and John…manages to lose Excalibur to a man (and former Knight) named Jerusalem Stark (great name).

So of course, he has to get it back. Stark runs to the Nightside to sell Excalibur to King Artur of Sinister Albion. Sinister Albion is an alternate history of Camelot where Merlin Satanspawn accepts the title of Antichrist and everything goes to shit. Quite literally. John and Suzie are so close to getting Excalibur back when she kills Artur and Stark escapes to Sinister Albion. This swordbearer thing is a lot harder than it sounds.

So they go to the Doormouse (and I’d love to see an artist’s rendering of this character because he sounds just so delightfully fuzzy) and get a door to this alternate earth. We see yet more mayhem and ass kicking and John finally gets Excalibur back. The Gaea from this time track sends them back to the Nightside but they’re a bit worse for wear. They’re filthy from the fighting and since they ended up in the wishing well of the Mammon Emporium (poor thing), they decide that cleaning up is the first order of business. Luckily you can find pretty much anything in the Mammon Emporium and that includes heavy duty cleaners. Half an hour and they’re good as new but the night is long and so very far from over.

John heads back to London Proper (with Suzie this time because he gets in trouble otherwise) and they bang on the door of the Castle Inconnu until they’re allowed in. John refuses to let the Knights beat around the bush any longer and insists on talking to their so called Grand Master. Imagine their surprise at coming face to face with Sir Kae, who they ran into in Paths Not Taken. And of course he still remembers them (how many people do you think have brained him with his own mace?) though he holds not grudges.

Turns out that Merlin, in all his nasty sense of humor, made Kae immortal so that something of the old, glorious Camelot would be around when Arthur woke up. And he is the only one who knows where Arthur is buried. And it isn’t Avalon (a rumor Kae started) and it isn’t Glastonbury (a modern myth I believe). It’s the basement of Strangefellows because honestly, who would think to look there. Especially with Merlin being buried right next to him.

Kae leads John, Suzie and Alex (because its his bar god damn it) into the cellars and John lays Excalibur at Arthur’s feet. Arthur pops awake as if its been mere hours, though he has been listening in his sleep this whole time (an easy way to get Arthur to speak modern English, natch). There is much rejoicing between brothers and much drinking by Arthur, whose quite thirsty after almost fifteen hundred years.

Still, they’re not quite sure what exactly they need to do. John doesn’t get much time to enjoy being in the presence of a legend. He gets a call from Julien Advent, who insists on meeting right. Now.  So John fires up the portable timeslip from Walker’s watch (which he stole before Walker took a swan dive) and meets Julien…at the place where Griffin Hall used to stand. Where Walker was killed by John’s own hand.

Julien shows John that Elves have come to the Nightside and are slaughtering people. He doesn’t know which faction they come from but it hardly matters. He demands John do something. John says he has an idea that Julien will almost certainly not like and then whisks himself off to Strangefellows before Julien can object. He tells the others what is happening and asks Kae to get his Knights. It order to do this in a timely fashion however, they have to go back to the Doormouse, who throws himself at Arthur and snuggles. Its rather cute.

The Doormouse is how the Elves got into Castle Inconnu earlier and though he isn’t entirely unrepentant, he does agree to send them back. There’s much rejoicing (yay) by the Knights at seeing their king alive and well. Arthur rouses them to battle and the whole lot of them (around a thousand in all) head into the Nightside via the Knights’ own dimensional doors (which I can only imagine must be operated from within the hall because otherwise why wouldn’t Kae use that instead of the Doormouse?).

Elves and Knights clash until the Elves are beaten down. John is pissed at this whole thing because there are people, his people, dead and dying in the streets and buildings mere ruins now. He’s damn well tired of the carnage and demands that Mab, Oberon and Titania parley with Arthur. And it is Arthur’s presence that ensures they actually do, because the Elves still have honor and they have old agreements with Camelot and her king.

In order to press upon every one that a civil war is most definitely a bad idea, John brings them all to a place he’s been working to erase since Something from the Nightside. The dead future timeline where he killed Razor Eddie is still a possibility (and he wishes he knew why, because he really wants to avoid it). Arthur and Kae are shocked and horrified. Oberon and Titania agree that perhaps a civil war is a bad thing but what can they do?

Its then that Arthur tells them of the Doormouse and his doors to alternate earths. There is a pristine earth behind one of those doors. An earth that has never known a sentient being, let alone something like and elf or a human. The Elves can thrive there, can be themselves there. Oberon and Titania agree but Mab, crazy Mab, does not. She’s all set to kick off some major carnage when she’s taken out (very trickily) by her own son, Puck.

And so war is averted for now. The Elves go to their paradise, where they can thrive. Oberon locks the door to that plane and disappears into Shadows Fall. He and Titania don’t belong in the new world. They are far too old fashioned for it. Arthur goes off with the Lady of the Lake, to await the Final Battle (whenever and wherever that may be). Kae gets to stay through the coming years the hard way. Again.

And John gets a bit of surprising news from Suzie. But we’ll wait until the next book to spill that little tidbit. :-) This was great. I loved the whole thing, beginning to end. If you could read just one of the Nightside books, I’d have to say that this should be it. Rating: A+.

The Good, the Bad and the Uncanny

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2013 by crookedreviews

Such a good book. Simon R. Green starts us right off with John Taylor wandering about the Nightside in a bit of a mood. Things are going well for him. Too well (bum-bum-buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum. You can really hear the ‘you just jinxed yourself music). He and Suzie can actually be physical with each other since her experience with the Walking Man. He’s got enough money (likely from the Griffin case) that he can only take cases he finds interesting and nothing major has happened to the Nightside recently.

So of course he runs into a flux fog. This interesting little idea is a play on how shadowy and uncertain fog can be. Have you ever driven in really thick fog and been hyper alert because you just don’t know what’s going to happen? If you’re going to hit something? Well, multiply that by a lot and you get a flux fog. Only instead of just people wandering about their business, people and things can come out from other dimensions. As Green says, a flux fog is when the edges of the world just don’t meet right. Anything can happen.

John, feeling at loose ends and looking for a change, calmly steps into the fog. Of course, nothing happens to him which is just his luck. Thankfully, his secretary Cathy has a job for him, one that he has to take because wouldn’t you know it? An elf is involved. Now elves are not cute, playful little things like they are in a lot of modern fairy tales. Elves are impossibly gorgeous, yes, but they are vicious, bloodthirsty, technologically advanced and absolutely hate humans. The only reason they don’t fight humans anymore is because humans out breed them. There is only one rule with elves: Don’t trust them. They always lie except for when the truth can hurt you more.

This elf wants John to escort him across the Nightside to a place called the Osterman Gate. It is a dimension door that leads directly to Shadows Fall, where the court of Oberon and Titania is located. This elf, called Lord Screech (and yes, when I first read the book, I pictured Dustin Diamond from Saved by the Bell), is a messenger between Oberon and Titania’s court and the court of Queen Mab. They’re at war but Screech is transporting a peace treaty. And not everyone wants that treaty signed.

John basically says what the hell, calls up Ms. Fate (the Nightside’s own transvestite super heroine) and takes the job. He calls Ms Fate because he needs wheels and Dead Boy is not available. John should really think about investing in a car. At any rate, the threesome fight off attacks left, right and center (some of them quite imaginative on Green’s part but that isn’t very unusual) and the juuuuust fail to make the Osterman Gate.

At that point, Lord Screech reveals himself to be not the Lord Screech (surely you jest!) but the very Loki-like (both the Norse god and the bad guy from the Avengers, sort of a mix) Puck. He was just a diversion, a way to keep everyone’s attention on him. The real messenger is already in Shadows Fall. Ha ha, joke’s on you silly humans! But just before Puck leaves, he gives John his payment for the help received. It seems something very old and very powerful is coming to the Nightside, but it isn’t what everyone thinks it is. What could this possibly be? Why, Excalibur of course! This comes of a few more times during the book but Excalibur itself doesn’t really make an appearance until the following book.

After that, John heads to Strangefellows because you’d need a big drink with a really big chaser too. Trying to relax, John gets interrupted by Larry Oblivion, the dead detective. Larry is insistent that John help him find his brother Tommy, who was lost (quite literally) during the Lilith War. No one, not even John (who has looked many times) has been able to find him or the body. Larry  wants him found and wants him found now.

John wants to know why Larry is so very keen all of a sudden and it seems that Larry’s (much) older brother, Hadleigh Oblivion, is now interested. At which point the bar goes quiet and John curses. Everyone is scared of Hadleigh, who has kind of become something like a boogie man. He went into the Deep School where they tell you horrible secrets and show you the real nature of the world. And he came through it. Those who survive the Deep School come out unimaginably powerful. And freakin’ scary.

We also find out that Larry has an elf wand (something that was hinted at in Hell to Pay) and how he came to get it. Turns out he was duped by an elf (what’s the first rule of dealing with elves? Yup, you got it) and accidentally let Queen Mab free from Hell. That Hell. So Larry feels he has to majorly make up for that before he actually gets one of the Nightside’s many denizens to release him from his zombism (zombieism?), John finally agrees to assist hiim but just as he does, Walker shows up.

Telling Larry that he’ll meet him at Cheyne Walk near the Tube station, John listens to Walker. He’s dying (we know) and he wants John to take over his position. John refuses point blank and Walker goes off to wherever he is when he isn’t harassing people. John knows this isn’t the end of this thing with Walker but he has a job to do.

John and Larry meet up again at Cheyne Walk and discuss what they both know about Tommy’s disappearance. Of course, Walker shows up again but this time with a bargain. John needs to walk with him, see what it is he does with his time, and he’ll tell John where to find Tommy. John reluctantly agrees and he walks the Nightside with Walker, not at all certain that he likes or approves of what he sees. It certainly doesn’t convince him to take up the job.

Eventually, Walker gives in for now and tells John that the Collector has started collecting people, not just objects. John locates the man at the far end of the Tube system, where no one ever goes any more. It isn’t even on the map of the system, a hellish place called Lud’s Gate. And certainly the Collector’s gone round the twist but no, he hasn’t gone snatching people. He doesn’t particularly even like people, why would he want to collect him.

Turns out, it was just a ruse to get Walker to find the Collector. See the Collector warded himself against Walker, but he didn’t think to ward John as well. Walker told John and Larry what they wanted to hear (Tommy’s location, only not really) and simply followed them. So he could kill the Collector, much to John and Larry’s dismay. The two of them hurry back to the Nightside, appalled and a bit dispirited because they’re no close to finding Tommy.

When they reach Cheyne Walk again, Walker calls John and simply tells him where to find Hadleigh Oblivion, who is out causing a bit of trouble at St. Jude’s. Not trusting Walker in the slightest any more, John confirms with Cathy and he and Larry head off. Once they arrive, they find the Lord of Thorns in high dudgeon. It turns out his powers hadn’t been broken really, they’d been suppressed by Walker and the denizens of the Street of the Gods. And Thorns is pissed.

At this point we get our first introduction to Hadleigh Oblivion. Tall with a total monochromatic motif going on, Hadleigh is intimidating and off putting. He doesn’t really do the who exposition-y explanation either. Just that he knows where Tommy is but they can’t quite do anything yet. They need to wait for something. And that something is Walker, who shows up yet again.

John turns him down flat when Walker asks John if he wants the job again. Disappointed, Walker whisks them out of St. Jude’s and to the former site of Griffin Hall. The garden has been transmogrified into a full blown jungle and is nasty with it. Walker has a plan, you see, to use a piece of tech that the Collector found. It can transfer Walker’s mind into John’s. He’s going to use John’s body to continue his (Walker’s) work and kill anyone who might have known that he wasn’t the real John (That is to say, Cathy, Suzie and Alex to start).

Well John just does not take that shit. He fights Walker and fights a bit dirty to be honest. Eventually Walker loses and while John is feeling bad about this (Walker was the closest thing he had to a father after all), Hadleigh shows up. It is now time to find Tommy. Hadleigh takes him back to Cheyne Walk where Larry is waiting for them.

The tech that Walker was going to use is the key. You see Tommy the Existential Detective uncertained himself out existence. He’s become a soft ghost and there are specific things needed to bring him (and the other soft ghosts) back to the world: John’s gift, the mind tech, Larry’s unique nature and Hadleigh’s knowledge to facilitate it all. Happy endings all around until John realizes that he can’t call Walker to deal with the soft ghosts no longer. Determined not to fall into Walker’s job by accident, John calls the New Authorities and finally gets home.

This book made me a little sad, even though it introduced a character that I like a lot (Hadleigh Oblivion). Sad because Walker is dead and he was the kind of character that you loved to hate. And you even felt a little sorry for the man at times. I will actually miss Walker. He’s a good foil for John. So Rest in Peace Walker, you will be missed. And stay tuned for the next thrilling adventure! Rating: B. I kind of felt that the bit where Larry was explaining about how he freed Mab could have been cut out entirely or at least shortened.

Just Another Judgement Day

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2013 by crookedreviews

So last book we had a bit of a lighthearted romp (can’t believe I just typed that) in The Unnatural Inquirer. So of course Simon R. Green has to go darker in Just Another Judgement Day. This book starts out with John and Suzie drinking away a bad case in Strangefellows. A Spring heeled Jack meme invaded the Nightside from a timeslip and started completely overwrite the people it took over. It turned into a huge bloody mess that killed a lot of people. No one was happy, not even when John figured out where it was coming from and had it shut down.

So here they are, drinking and clearly wanting to be left alone when a clownishly dressed man famous for just being famous (i.e.-the Kardashians and Paris Hilton. Ugh) demands that John help him figure out what’s going on with his former party pals. These people are pretty much professional partiers. They go to all the in clubs and parties, do all the drugs, drink all the drinks and live a hard life. But his friends aren’t looking like they’re having any ill effects. They look young and healthy and vital and this poor man (with the unfortunate name of Percy d’Arcy) is aging. And he can’t get in to the health club they’re going to. An obscenely large sum of money is offered, so John and Suzie accept the case.

They head to the health spa and are almost immediately given the boot. That doesn’t stop them though. They hang around for a while, lulling the spa people into a false sense of security (good lord, I’m going for all the cliches tonight), before breaking in and finding out the secret. Someone has stabilized a timeslip and are kidnapping alternate version of the well-to-do partiers and doing a bit of reverse voodoo on them. That is to say the kidnapped people are strapped to tables and feel all the effects of anything the partiers do (drugs, alcohol, plastic surgery etc). Percy didn’t get in because his alternate was already dead in the other world.

Turns out that the (supposed) original Dr. Frankenstein was just using this place as a way to fund his ongoing and really quite horrible research. John and Suzie shut him and his creations down with prejudice and let Walker take care of the victims. Much later, having gone home after this, Walker comes around with some really bad news. One, he thinks of John as a son. Two, the Walking Man is in town and are threatening the New Authorities. Which may really be three bad things depending on who the New Authorities turn out to be.

They need John’s help and want to meet with him. Who are the New Authorities? Julien Advent (natch), Jessica Sorrow, the King of Skin, Count Video and Anne Abattoir. Sound familiar? John has a panic attack wondering what it all means before they confirm what Walker said. The Walking Man is in town, the wrath of god (literally) in the world of men. He goes anywhere and kills anything that he perceives as being evil or against god. Which in the Nightside is damn near everything. No one has ever stopped a Walking Man (its a title or position. There have been many in the past).  So no pressure.

John accepts the charge by the New Authorities and heads out (with a bit of assistance from Walker) with Suzie Shooter and new character Chandra Singh (holy warrior and monster hunter extraordinaire from India) to a place called Precious Memories. This is the place where John found the Walking Man with his gift. And they are utterly appalled by the complete carnage they find. No one survived. And they don’t know why. All John and Suzie know about this place is that they’re supposed to give you memories from another person but in a way where you feel they’re yours.

Turns out, the Walking Man leaves them a recording. It contains him killing every man, woman, security guard and dog (which I am completely against. I don’t believe in bad dogs, just bad owners) in the building until he gets down to the heart of the place. There he finds possibly the most horrifying thing Green has written about because it’s something that could actually exist in this world. Children of mixed sexes and varying ages, kept in cages. I can’t really say what they did but you can guess and you can guess what the people buying the “precious memories” were really buying (ick, ick, ick). John and the others don’t feel very bad about the deaths any more.

They wait until Walker and his people can show up, trying to get the kids to respond but Suzie (with her own horrible background) is the one who connects with them. And she finds that she can touch them like she can’t bear with anyone else, because its a lot like hugging herself (*tear*). John and Chandra leave Suzie with the kids (she insists) and go after the Walking Man, heading to Clubland and the Boys Club.

This is the club for the big movers and shakers in the Nightside. They can do pretty much anything here in the safety of their club. John and Chandra meet up with the Walking Man outside. He wants to show off apparently because he invites them in with him, ignoring their attempts to sway him. He points out all the evil that the big names have done and proceeds to clean house. Chandra joins in. These people are monsters and he’s a monster hunter. John just tries to stay out of the way. In the end, he decides that the Walking Man can’t go on but that they need more information.

He and Chandra head for the Badlands (the really bad part of the Nightside, and that’s saying something). They talk to Tamsin Macready, the new rogue vicar (a post she took over from old blind Pew after the Lilith War). She doesn’t have much to stay that they don’t already know. She only suggests trying to shake his faith. With nothing else to go on, John takes them to St. Jude’s church to speak with the Lord of Thorns. He isn’t helpful either except to suggest the Speaking Gun (which John thought he destroyed but apparently it is very hard to kill).

In order to do that, he needs to go to the Street of the Gods where coincidence has it the Walking Man is. There is much carnage and a showdown with Razor Eddie before the Walking Man does what he does best and walks off in search of a new target. John gets the gun from the Gun Shop, which is on the Street of the Gods due to the fact that some people do in fact worship their weaponry. And there it is, sitting on a shelf in one of the Collector’s boxes. John takes it and gets a call from Walker as soon as he steps out of the shop. The Walking Man is nearing the Authorities, get your ass over here now John (essentially).

Walker transports John and Chandra to the Adventurers Club (the new home of the New Authorities). Many people are there, not just members of the club, to defend the New Authorities (and to see some violence, lets be honest here people). John and Chandra meet with the New Authorities and tell them the big, awful plan: use the Speaking Gun and pray it works. No one is happy, especially when the Walking Man actually shows up.

He marches through all the security protections, magical and scientific, and takes out a few club members before coming face to face with John and the Speaking Gun. John just can’t use it though. It is too awful and it would cost him too much, damn what is left of his soul. Chandra grabs the gun, thinking he can use it but he experiences the same thing. He just can’t. So the Walking Man destroys the gun. Again.

In the end, John puts himself between the Walking Man and the Authorities. He’s unarmed and unwilling to fight back. He doesn’t want to die but he believes in the New Authorities. He won’t make it easy on the Walking Man, who just shrugs in acceptance and tries to shoot John. And tries to shoot him. And tries to shoot him. Despite his guns being fully loaded (they’re revolvers and John can see the bullets), the guns don’t fire.

It turns out that as tarnished as John us, he was ‘innocent’ in the eyes of god as he was unarmed and stood up for what he believed in. Why has no one else caught onto this catch in the impenetrable armor that is the Walking Man. With his power broken, the Walking Man is just a man again. And there was much rejoicing. Yay. Until, of course, John finds out that Walker (both a father figure and an enemy) is dying. And cut! That’s where Green leaves off. What will happen next? We find out in The Good, The Bad, and the Uncanny, which I am off to read.

This book gives us a look at a character that Simon R. Green has mention in a few other series. He really likes to interweave his stories, which I love. It’s an okay book but it was really a way to set up the next book. Still, it had some good bits in it and is worth the read. Rating: B-.

The Unnatural Inquirer

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2013 by crookedreviews

So I think I’ve gone and kick started myself back to reading. I started and finished Simon R. Green’s The Unnatural Inquirer yesterday afternoon. :-)

So The Unnatural Inquirer starts off with John wrapping up a case at the HP Lovecraft Memorial Library (hee) and running into two very dangerous people outside, Walker and Suzie Shooter. Now John doesn’t mind seeing Suzie since they’re an item and are, in fact, living together. But it is never a good thing when Walker shows up and now is no exception.

Walker has hired Suzie to track down one of the Nightside’s Major Players, Max Maxwell the Voodoo Apostate. “The man so big they named him twice”.  Suzie, being a bounty hunter, is quite good at finding people. But Max has dug a hole and pulled it in after him. So Walker needs John to find him because Max was dumb and unleashed a bunch of loa (voodoo gods/beings) using something called the Aquarius Key (as in the song. It was the 60s).

They start at Max’s office and John uses his gift to show what Max was doing last, then following the ‘ghost’ Max out into the Nightside and all the way to one of the Nightside’s Bad Places. Even in a place like the Nightside, there are Bad Places. The Fun Faire is one of them. Someone had decided that an amusement park was just the thing that the people needed and of course it went horribly, horribly wrong. They’ve tried to exorcise the place fourteen times to no avail but that means that only the stupid or desperate would willingly go there. Like Max.

John and Suzie corner Max only he wasn’t as stupid as they thought. Okay, he was but he had a plan that required him entering the Fun Faire. You see, all the really bad juju that was in the Faire soaked into the Aquarius Key, supercharging it. Max wants to transport himself to the land of the loa, use the key to take over and transform himself into a god. Except the loa are pissed with a capital P and are hunting him down, first in the bodies of some of the Nightside’s best bounty hunters (not Suzie though. They wouldn’t dare) and then by the decaying bits of Fun Faire like the dodge ‘em cars and carousel ponies.

And through this, Max still tries to get away from John and Suzie. First Suzie blows his hand off so they can get the Key and shut everything down and then she blows his kneecap off because he threatened her and John. Finally John, with a bit of surprise help from Walker, get the loa back where they belong with the promise of severe punishment for Max. He’s being sent to Shadow Deep, the Nightside’s own and terrible prison (cross Azkaban with no dementors with the Cask of Amantillado).

After that, Suzie goes to collect her bounty and John gets a new job with the Nightside’s very own gossip rag The Unnatural Inquirer. They print everything whether its true or not and the nastier the better. They keep the whole company in a pocket dimension so their many and varied enemies can’t destroy them (because that has been tried). John gets picked up by some time reporter Harry Fabulous (remember him?) and transported right into the lobby, where he’s forced to wait for the assistant editor Scoop Malloy (its not what you think. He used to work with animals).

And what problem could the foremost gossip paper possibly need John Taylor for? Well, they have purchased what might possibly be a recording of the Afterlife, made by a mousy little man named Pen Donovan. Only before they could get their hands on it, Donovan and his recording went missing. So John is to find him. The catch is that he must bring along demon (literally) girl reporter Bettie Divine. Bettie is half-succubus and half Rolling Stone (which one is never specified). John balks at this but they offer him a staggeringly good fee.

They stop by the Hawk’s Wind Bar & Grill (and can I just say how cool it would be to go there?) and talk about what Bettie knows about Donovan and who might be behind the disappearance. In the end, its much speculation and little facts so they go to Pen Donovan’s flat which is fairly nondescript. He was one of many timeslip junk dealers and he wasn’t doing well by the looks of things. His television was done up with unusual tech, which makes both John and Bettie think that maybe, just maybe, he did record something after all.

With no signs of Donovan and no real clues, they head to the Street of the Gods to see if anyone there knows what’s going on. No one does though they do start thinking that marketing CDs is a damn fine idea for raising money. John starts a minor god war and they leave posthaste, discussing how real they think this recording is. John decides that he’s going to need a word with Walker and heads them both to the Londinium Club.

The last Doorman died in the the Lilith War but they have a new one, decked out in full Victorian chic. John tries getting around him the easy way but its no go and so he has to stare the poor man down. Finally they get a word with Walker and John asks where he can find the Collector. Surely the Collector will either have the the recording or know where it is. Walker tells them that the last he knew, the Collector was in the Museum of Unnatural History. In the Tyrannosaur exhibit. The living Tyrannosaur exhibit. :-D

Well, the Collector turns out to be a bust though John and Bettie to get to outfox a Tyrannosaur. The next stop is the Cardinal, a defrocked priest who is like the Collector for religious/historic items. He doesn’t have it and he’s not sure if he wants it. Being a former priest, he doesn’t want to know for certain if heaven exists. John mentions that the thought he had of the Removal Man being out for it and the Cardinal freaks.

The Removal Man is a Nightside boogie man of sorts. No one’s ever seen him but the story is, if someone offends his sense of morality (which isn’t hard in the Nightside), he disappears them. They cease to exist. John and Bettie find themselves unceremoniously kicked out of the Cardinal’s place…and the man is immediately attacked. They break back in but he is gone and there is no sign of anyone else there.

In the middle of all this (like my segue?), there are three people who are vying for the spot of the recently deceased Authorities: General Condor (from a future timeline), Uptown Taffy Lewis (major real estate man, very obese and so far from nice he can’t even spell it), and Queen Helena (another future timeline person who claimed to be Queen of the earth after the sun starts dying). They all want John to back them, which he doesn’t do and doesn’t want to do. Eventually, he starts a major street fight between the lot and lets Walker sort it out.

At a dead end, John is warning Bettie this could be quite a long case when old friend Alex Morrisey calls up in a state. Well…when is Alex not in a state? Anyway, it seems like Mr. Pen Donovan has showed up in Strangefellows and driven off the usual clients. John uses his membership card to transport them right there (because Alex is really cranky).  Donovan looks quite the worse for wear and is being a bit paranoid (which is healthy in the Nightside really), for good reason. Kid Cthulu sends a bunch of thugs in the bar after him. John, Alex and the bouncer sisters the Coltranes kick the crap out of them and then John calms Donovan down and takes the DVD of the Afterlife Recording from him.

Alex hesitantly agrees to let John view the recording and leads him upstairs to his flat above the bar. And John is stunned at the state of it. It’s clean! Alex’s pornographic porcelain figurines are gone. He has matching furniture! Turns out, Alex is dating someone. Well, living with someone really. And who is that? To John’s enormous shock, its his secretary (and daughter in every way that matters), Cathy Barrett. He disapproves at first (Cathy is nineteen and Alex is about John’s age) but then admits that Cathy is an adult and can take care of herself.

Determined to talk about that later with Alex, John and Bettie finally get down to watching the Afterlife Recording when John notices something. Every face on the recording is that of Pen Donovan. Every tortured soul, every demon, is Donovan. So clearly this is not the real deal but a case of psychic imprinting (discussed earlier in the book). But why would a mild little man like Pen Donovan believe himself to be hellbound?

John heads back downstairs and asks Donovan just that. Turns out that he put down his dog for a woman, who left him eventually anyway. The dog was perfectly healthy and his only real friend. He feels guilty about that, terribly guilty. Wondering why all this was coming up now since it apparently happened some time ago, John discovers that Pen Donovan is inhabited by some sort of parasite that feeds off his guilt and fear. And he’s pretty much dead. So John finds the one thing that will ease Donovan’s guilt and pain. His dog, Prince. He opens a door to the afterlife (or makes it appear he does) and the dog comes back, assures Donovan that he doesn’t hold him responsible (yes, a talking dog. Live with it) and takes him back to heaven with him. John then squishes the ever living fuck out of the parasite because there are some things he just does not put up with.

Thinking that he’s all set and can finally get the damn DVD to the Unnnatural Inquirer, John finds himself sidetracked by Kid Cthulu. He and Bettie end up in Uptown with Kid Cthulu, surprise-surprise, tries to kill them. John gets there first only to find himself face to face with the Removal Man. Sometimes it just does not pay to get out of bed. After dealing with him and the man behind his power (the editor of the Unnatural Inquirer), John finally gets around to returning the Aquarius Key to Walker outside the Londinium Club (it has new decorations, the heads of Helena, Condor and Uptown Taffy Lewis). He turns the DVD over to Bettie and the Unnatural Inquirer and all is good. For now.

This book was great because it was a fairly lighthearted book for the Nightside arc. It was more comedic than the last few and gave us a good break from the doom and gloom of the Lilith war. I highly recommend this book. Rating: A+.

Hell to Pay

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , on December 15, 2013 by crookedreviews

The Lilith War is over. The Authorities are quite dead. John Taylor is finally free of his old Enemies, knowing that there’s no reason for them to exists as they did since the Nightside still stands. So what’s a private investigator to do now that he’s saved the world? Disneyland? Nope, its back to the grind.

In Hell to Pay (by Simon R. Green of course), John Taylor gets called on by one of the biggest, baddest names in the Nightside, Jeremiah Griffin, for a job. Griffin (often referred to as The Griffin), is immortal due to making a contract with the Devil very long ago. By extension his wife, children (and their spouses) and grandchildren are all immortal as well. And being immortal, he’s had plenty of time to build of his reputation and his wealth.

So what could a man with infinite resources and power need of John Taylor? Well, his gift of finding things to be frank. You see, Jeremiah recently changed his will (which might be a bit odd seeing as he’s immortal and all, but you never know in the the Nightside) to leave everything to his granddaughter Melissa (good name). Unfortuntely, Melissa has gone missing and Jeremiah believes her kidnapped.

He hires John at the cost of ten million pounds, one million up front, to find her. She was taken from Griffin Hall itself, which is really quite heavily protected. John’s immediate thought is inside job. But who would dare? John turns to his gift to find Melissa and it’s immediately shut down but something powerful. That means good old fashion, pounding the pavement (or plush carpeting) detective work.

John starts out questioning all members of the family, who are in the Hall already as Jeremiah wouldn’t let them leave. It really gets him nowhere. They’re so used to not having to do things they don’t want to do that they’re quite combative. It doesn’t hurt that there’s so much paranoia in the Griffin family that they’re practically bathing in it. They give a united front of “we’re not speaking with you, especially here in the Hall”. With nothing for it, John heads out of Griffin Hall and back into the Nightside proper.

He heads to Strangefellows where he picks up some intriguing gossip from one of the Unnatural Inquirer‘s writers, Harry Fabulous. He also leaves his millions pounds with some time friend and bartender Alex Morrisey (though he claims its a briefcase full of explosives. He’s not stupid after all). He’s about to go corner the Griffins in their respective clubs when a woman with a Kayleigh’s Eye (a very nasty weapon) comes in, threatening to kill him (or worse most likely) for being an abomination (really, they should be over this by now. He helped destroy his mother after all). John very calmly (outwardly at least), waits for the woman to get closer before sending the Kayleigh’s Eye back where it came from. He then punches the woman out. Clearly, someone really doesn’t want him searching for Melissa Griffin.

John’s next stop is the Caligula Club. As in the Roman emperor Caligula. So you can extrapolate just what that club is about. ;-) His gossip source told him that William, the Griffin’s son, is a member there and has quite the extreme tastes. John bullies his way in (It’s amazing what the Griffin’s name will get you in the Nightside) and finds not William, but his ex-supermodel wife Gloria.  Gloria is Melissa’s mother, though she never really got the chance to be a mother. Jeremiah took custody of Melissa and her cousin Paul as infants.

Gloria tells John that the Caligula Club wasn’t extreme enough for William any more (wow!) but she stuck around because she liked it. She tells Taylor point blank she had nothing to do with Melissa’s disappearance nor does she know who did it. She also tells him that she wants Melissa found because she does love her daughter, even if she doesn’t have a real connection to her. She gives Taylor a tip to find her husband, another club called the Arcadian Project.

The Arcadian Project is one of those places that has a reputation in the Nightside. People have heard of it, but they don’t really know what goes on there. Rumor has it that most people who go in, don’t come back out (insert menacing horror movie music here). Since John has no idea where this place is (not many do), John decides he’ll have to try his gift again and finds to his surprise that it works now. Apparently the person or presence that blocked him at the Hall is only blocking him when he’s looking specifically for Melissa (natch).

He finds the project, goes inside and finds…paradise. Essentially. He walks into a meadow of gently rolling hills with a burbling stream and…his parents. Having a picnic. His dead parents. The Arcadian Project is a place of peace where your wishes come true. Wish you had a regular family who picnics with your favorite foods? Boom. John takes a moment to enjoy the illusion but it’s just that. An illusion. His parents are in Limbo quite literally. And before that his father was dead. Yeah, kind of a weird family history there.

John leaves his parents behind and finds William surrounded by childhood characters from books and TV, looking more at peace than John has seen previously. With him are old favorites of Green’s of Bruin Bear and the Sea Goat. Either these guys were real children’s book characters that Green loved as a child or he created them specifically for his many books. Either way, I love them (especially the Sea Goat).  Bruin Bear and the Sea Goat are visiting from the Nightside and consider William their friend.

William confesses that he didn’t care about how the will cut him out. He’d never wanted to be put in charge of the family anyway but he’d never been given a choice in what he did. So to have some semblance of control in his life, he did two things: body building and indulging his senses (hence the Caligula Club among other things). He loves his daughter Melissa and genuinely wanted to be a good father to her but never got the chance. He’s not quite sure how Melissa disappeared. He doesn’t think she could have been kidnapped from the Hall (all those security measures!) but he doesn’t believe she just ran away. In the end, he shuffles John off to his sister Eleanor at the Hecate’s Tea Room.

The tea room is the place for the Nightside’s Ladies Who Lunch. Sounds a bit intimidating doesn’t it? You are no one in society if you don’t lunch at the Tea Room. All the high roller’s wives lunch there. Again, John gets in on a combination of reputation and the Griffin’s name. Eleanor gives him a bit of a hard time, to keep up appearances, but eventually agrees to talk to him in a private booth.

Like her brother, once she’s away from the Griffin’s immediate eyes and ears at the Hall, she turns talkative. She tells John that her father didn’t really care about her. He had William and her father is old enough that a woman was considered damn near useless aside from marrying off to another man. They don’t get much farther before they’re interrupted by Eleanor’s latest toy boy, Ramon.

Ramon wants to make a bit of a name for himself. He wants to take down the infamous John Taylor because when you get a reputation, people want to test it. Eleanor is her usual dismissive self and basically tells him to bugger off and be a good piece of arm candy (nice to see the tables changed I suppose). Ramon tells her to shut up and effectively cuts off his cash cow in that moment. He threatens John with a silver knife (really not the material you want to make a blade out of but if it cuts it cuts). John stares him down, only John’s stares are so much more. The various bodyguards of the Ladies Who Lunch back up this little tit because they want a piece of the action (and very much not because they like the guy. Which they don’t).

The bodyguards rush John but they’re not used to fighting in a group. John distracts them with a whiz bang (which I assume is rather like a flash bang?) and pulls out an aboriginal pointing bone. These things are nasty. You say a Word, point the bone and the person you’re pointing it at dies. Simply and effective and you can’t block it (sort of like the Avada Kedavra curse). The bouncers then toss out Ramon and John tries to get back to his conversation with Eleanor only to be blocked again.

A messenger comes to get Eleanor. Her husband Marcel has a gambling problem and he’s in it deep with an unsavory type. Marcel can’t gamble at the nice places any more. He can’t cover his debts on his own and the Griffin refuses to pay for him. So he goes to the much less reputable spots and gets in trouble. Like now. John insists on accompanying Eleanor, if only because these people are likely to take her hostage as to blackmail the Griffin. A bit of a dust up later and Marcel (quite worse for wear) is rescued and sent back to the Hall to heal.

Finally able to get back to their conversation, Eleanor admits that she doesn’t know her niece very well. She’s quiet and studious. However, Eleanor believes Melissa was kidnapped with inside help from the Hall. She just can’t think of who would help in the endeavor because everyone in the Nightside knows that the Griffin will move heaven and hell and all in between for family. And then she tries to get in John’s pants. Not really a good idea considering that he’s officially “with” Suzie Shooter (at this point, not really physically and if you’ve read the previous books you know why).

John politely declines (hey, he can be nice) and Eleanor tells John where he can find Paul. Paul’s club is a place we’ve been before in Nightingale’s Lament, Divas! Paul knows deep inside himself that he was born to the wrong sex. He has always believed himself to be a she. Unfortunately, the contract that keeps the Griffins immortal also nullifies any attempt Paul has made to change himself to a woman, either scientific through sexual reorientation or magical. So in order to feel a bit more himself, Paul dresses as a woman and goes to Divas! to sing. He calls himself Polly and dresses up (a little weirdly I feel but to each their own) as his cousin Melissa. He does it so well that at first John thought he’d found Melissa and not Polly.

P0lly, it turns out, knows a bit more than his parents or his aunt and uncle. Polly knows where the original deal Jeremiah made with the Devil is, at tells John to find what’s in the basement of the Hall. Not long after, Polly just gets up and heads to sing because that is all she really wants, to be herself and sing. Of course, things go to hell in a hand basket promptly. A group of women in fatigues storm in, demanding that Paul Griffin (not Polly) be handed over to them or there will be blood.

Unfortunately for them, after the incident in Nightingale’s Lament, all the girls at Divas! go heavily armed. There is a fire fight of mildly epic proportions and all the invading women are killed. John deduces that with the brand spankin’ new fatigues, the really short hair cuts, the lack of makeup and the simple gold wedding bands that they’re all wearing, that they are nuns (undercover nuns at that). The question is, which service? With none of the nuns left alive, he can’t get the answers now but he’s sure he will eventually. In the mess of the fight and the immediate aftermath, Polly disappears.

With no reason to stay, John leaves Divas! and is immediately mentally assaulted by Jeremiah Griffin in a very loud voice directly to his mind. What could possibly be so important? A party of course! He’s throwing a part to show that he isn’t weak or distracted by his missing granddaughter (never let them see you weak is pretty much the motto of the Nightside). Besides, there will be people to interrogate there! All or most of the Griffin’s many enemies will be in attendance.

So John picks up Dead Boy on the way and heads to the Hall. No one said he couldn’t bring someone but mostly John just needed a ride. Jeremiah points out the who’s who in the crowd and then leaves him to his own devices. The Griffin’s children, William and Eleanor, try to hire him to bump off dear old dad and John turns them down flat. He’s not an assassin, he’s a private detective. John walks away from them and that is when Walker puts in an appearance.

Jeremiah is livid that Walker burst in uninvited but his security measures don’t work. Walker assures the Griffin that he isn’t there for him (the yet being unspoken). One of Jeremiah’s guests is not who everyone thought, it is a shapeshifting creature called the Charnel Chimera. Just a handshake will allow it to imitate a person for a short period. But if he kidnaps and feeds on the person, it can keep up the farce for much longer.

This is when Dead Boy wades into the fray. Being dead, he is much stronger and much faster than any of the regular humans there. He literally tears apart the Charnel Chimera, holding it off until John finds the magic holding the thing together and rips it away. That taken care of, Walker leaves, slightly disappointed that nothing was left to test. John goes back to ask Jeremiah some pointed questions and is led to a special private room where Jeremiah spills his secrets, in case it helps find Melissa.

They’re interrupted (after the story) by Hobbes, who has a ransom note and a knife on a platter. The knife was used to pin the note to the front door. None of the security measures went off. Again indicating an inside job. The note wants Jeremiah to give up every part of his empire, all of his money, if he wants to see Melissa alive again. If he agrees, he’s to go to a specific address (a parking garage) at a specific time. Its clearly a trap, so John insists on going instead.

Of course, the trap is rather for him than the Griffin. The kidnappers, who turn out to be the Salvation Army Sisterhood (mentioned in other books), are waiting for him and very well armed. The briefly show him Melissa, huddled next to a car but seemingly in good health, and tell him to back the hell off. They didn’t want to negotiate with the Griffin. They wanted John there to tell him that he really has no clue what’s going on and to not pursue it. They want to imprison him until this whole thing is over but John doesn’t agree to that.

He uses his gift to fire up the garage’s sprinkler system and since not all of the cars in the Nightside are cars, there is a general melee of angry creatures (and some cars) thinking they’re under attack. So they lash out at the nuns, who fire back. The Salvation Army sisterhood are warriors of god, though I can’t think that they’re at all Vatican approved. In the confusion, John heads for Melissa only one of the nuns accidentally shoots her before he can get there. Shocked and horrified by what she’d done, the nun throws down her gun and tries to run only to be eaten by one of the cars.

You’d think that being part of an immortal family would mean you’d be okay taking a few shots to the chest but whatever was  in the nun’s guns did the trick. Melissa is dead. Only…it isn’t Melissa. It’s Polly and Polly has just enough time left to press a small golden key into John’s hands. Once everything has calmed down, the one surviving nun, Sister Josephine, decides that its time to come clean.

Melissa wasn’t kidnapped. She ran away. In a family where every sin and every pleasure has been done, what could a teenager possibly do to rebel? Become uber religious of course. Only what started out as rebellion turned into true faith for Melissa. And when she found out that she was set to inherit a fortune and a business that was built on something given from the Devil, she was horrified and turned to the Salvation Army Sisterhood for help.

Melissa herself brought them into the Hall. They left proof of their presence with little clues here and there, a footprint or a hand print etc. But why did Melissa just not run away? To confuse things. To have Jeremiah’s resources spread thin so they couldn’t possibly find her. Why the Salvation Army Sisterhood? For protection. Precious few people were willing to go head to head with the very well armored and not the least bit crazy nuns.

Sister Josephine brings John to a pocket dimension where they were keeping Melissa, hopefully a measure that would be enough to keep her out of his Sight. Unfortunately, she’s not there. All the nuns that were protecting Melissa are dead and dismembered. Melissa a is missing. The only thing that could do that? A demon. He’s broken into the pocket dimension and hauled Melissa off to Griffin Hall because the Devil aims to collect his souls and he means now.

Sister Josephine gets them back to the the general area of the Hall but unfortunately for both of them they are separated during transit and John himself ends up in the carnivorous jungle surrounding the hall. After a bit of bullying, John safely manages to run through the jungle and break into Griffin Hall. He finds all the security guards and servants just as dead and dismembered as the nuns.

John knows where this is going so down to the basement he goes where he finds all the Griffins crucified to the wall with the exception of Melissa, who is locked in a pentacle made of her family’s blood. She’s been beaten up simply because the demon could. And who is the demon? Have we seen him before? Yes, we have. It’s Hobbes the butler. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the butler did it! Hee!

Hobbes  is there to collect all the Griffin’s souls for the devil, including Melissa’s if he can. Though because she is devout and has already taken her novice vows, he can’t immediately take her. He can, however, torture her until she breaks. Jeremiah, who genuinely loves his granddaughter, begs John to figure out a way to get her and his children free. His wife pitches a fit but he tells her essentially to shut up because she’s just as bad as he his.

John has a bit of sanctified wooden cross embedded in his dominant hand. Using Melissa as a distraction, he finds the original deal Jeremiah made by a combination of his gift and Polly’s key. With a simple ball point pen and his (hopefully) sanctified hand, he crosses out the part of the deal that refers to offspring and grandchildren. William, Eleanor and their respective spouses tumble from the walls and the lot of them barely escape the destruction of both the Griffin, his wife and the hall itself.

In the end, they all become mortal. Melissa sets up a trust fund for her parents and her aunt and uncle before selling off the Griffin’s businesses. She give all the money to charity (and the Salvation Army Sisterhood) and joins a contemplative nunnery (which is protected by the SAS).  John also gets his payoff.

This book is good because it deals with the power struggle left behind after the Authorities die and it shows that John is determined to stay his own man. He’s never had a point where he’s free of what might be and now he has it. He doesn’t want to become a bad guy, despite his bad reputation. So he continues to do things his way. And it gives a few hints as to where Green will be going in future Nightside books. Rating: A.

Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2013 by crookedreviews

Next up on the hit parade is Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth. After the events of Paths Not Taken, the Nightside is at war with Lilith. John just knows that he has to be the one to defeat his mother. No one else really stands a chance but first, he has to rescue his secretary Cathy from the tender clutches of Walker. Its here that we find out, to no one’s surprise, that he thinks of Cathy as a daughter more than a secretary.

John discovers that Walker is keeping her in the Necropolis with protections that means he can’t see what sort of trap he (and Suzie) will be walking into. Still, he goes anyway. He can’t not. Alex helps him leave Strangefellows without being seen, an old family secret for a rainy night. From there, John goes to the Doormouse, a life-size bipedal mouse that deals in transportational doors. After some haggling and a bit of growling by Suzie, the Doormouse transports them right to the outside of the Necropolis (never inside any establishment, its too dangerous), where they run into Razor Eddie.

Razor Eddie had heard of Cathy’s plight and came to help, if only to stick it to Walker. Eddie uses his newly enhanced pearl handled straight razor and opens up the dimensional wall between the Nightside and the Necropolis’ graveyard. There they find necromancer Sandra Chance (formerly involved with the Lamentation) and Tommy Oblivion. Tommy thinks he’s doing the right thing. Sandra just wants revenge. With nothing for it, Tommy wakes up the sleeping Cathy, who promptly kicks him in the balls because he doesn’t want to kill John, just keep him busy.

And Sandra does a stupid. She tries to take her revenge by raising the dead but they are seriously protected. Which is of course just when Walker double crosses them all and locks them in the Necropolis. The group fights together to keep the guardian of the dead from killing them all until John points out to Eddie right where his previous opening had been. That area is weak and Walker didn’t know Eddie would be there. Luckily, they escape but the hardship isn’t over yet.

John sends Tommy to escort Cathy to Strangefellows while the rest of them go to the Street of the Gods. When they get there, they find it utterly destroyed. Lilith had already been there, making a grand entrance and killing quite a lot of things, almost including Walker himself. Walker survives and he and John finally get on the same side. John sends them off to Strangefellows to heal Walker while he goes to find Dead Boy and Julian Advent.

He finds Dead Boy working as a bouncer and cajoles/threatens him to joining John. They find Julian Advent being Julian Advent and help him rescue a bunch of fairies in a sweat shop for magic items. After that’s finished, John tells Julian and Dead Boy that he needs to be sent into the future to talk to his Enemies, the ones who had haunted him throughout his life with the Harrowing. And to do that, he needs to summon an angel. There is a lot of argument about how this is very stupid but John is insistent, besides he knows this angel-the former succubus Pretty Poison.

She is more than a little mad at his presumption but she helps him anyway. She sends him into the future. He has to dodge monstrous, hate-filled creatures to get to his enemies but he does it. And he talks his way out of immediate death, so there’s that. He gets information from them and promises to change this future because he really doesn’t want it either. In the end, they agree to send him back but they’re a little off with their timing. They send him back a week after he left and a lot of people think he’s done a runner. Idiots. When has John ever done a runner?

John goes to a magic crystal type shop and uses up pretty much every crystal ball and scrying pool to catch up on what he’s missed. And it isn’t pretty, not at all. Luckily though, most of the people he considers friends are still alive. Lilith has done some awful things including destroying the Time Tower and raising all the dead of the Necropolis to us as an army. Once he’s done catching up, John uses one last pool to contact Walker. They need to get in touch with the Authorities now.

The twosome meet up at the Londinium Club, naturally. Unfortunately, the Authorities turn out to be the cowardly, nasty jerks we all took them for. So its kinda nice that Lilith kills them all, even if it does shock the hell out of Walker. Now they’re really on their own. John pulls Tommy Oblivion out of Strangefellows via his membership card and forces Tommy to existential them to St Jude’s to find the Lord of Thorns, who unfortunately turns out to be no help at all.

Before John could come up with his next move, he’s ambushed by Sandra Chance and a bunch of fellow ruthless bounty hunters (and no Suzie is not among them). It seems the Reasonable Men, whom he killed two books ago, have parents who put out a major bounty on his head. Stupid people. John and Suzie kill them (Tommy was severely injured) and the three of them hobble back to Strangefellows.

John’s next idea: Retrieve the Speaking Gun from Old Father Time. Unfortunately with the Time Tower destroyed, John has to get to Shadows Fall the hard way, through the Tube. John leads Suzie, Dead Boy and Tommy Oblivion (newly healed and a bit of an idiot) out to the night once more. One by one, they all fall behind but John makes the train, gets to Old Father Time and retrieves the Speaking Gun. Time immediately sends him catapulting back to the Nightside…and right to Lilith.

No, Time is not conspiring with Lilith, she’s just that good. And it turns out that the Speaking Gun was a bad idea. If you recall, it was made of a person, all meat and gristle and bits of skin. Well, that person? You guessed it, Lilith. The gun gets incorporated back into her and she’s just about to get a hold of John and start her Master Plan when in swings the Collector with a weird ass timey-wimey device. He blinks in, grabs John and blinks out before Lilith can move. She is not a happy kitty.

Back in Strangefellows, all seems lost until Walker says something that give John the ultimate idea. You see, Lilith had been banished to Limbo a very long time ago. Only Walker, the Collector and John’s father Charles opening the Babalon Working back in the sixties let her back into the world. Only they were so shaken by it not working out correctly, they didn’t bother closing the working.

John realizes the way to fix this is to shove Lilith back through that propped open door to Limbo. And that the three people who are needed to do it are actually available, thanks to Lilith. John’s father drank himself to death when he was a kid and all dead people in the Nightside get buried in the Necropolis. The Necropolis that Lilith emptied by bringing the dead back to (some semblance) of life. John finds his father holed up in the Library (his sanctuary when he was alive) and Merlin (newly arisen without Alex’s help for once), retrieves him.

John has just moments to explain his plan and the threesome (reluctantly I must say) agree to close the Babalon Working. Of course, while they’re doing this, Lilith finally breaks down Strangefellows defenses and kills Merlin. John distracts her by demanding she explain her master plans (which she does in Bondian fashion). The door to Limbo springs back open and sucks her right to the edge but someone has to close the door from inside Limbo. John gets ready to do it but his father tackles Lilith, gives him the I’m-proud-of-you-son and the working shuts down. Crisis averted.

This book has its moments. Dead Boy, John and Julian Advent tearing apart a sweat shop was great…but kind of out of place in the grand scheme of this book. The Doormouse is lovely and introduces a character that comes back a couple times. Still, I think that perhaps he could have gone with a slightly longer book, just to drag things out a bit. This is supposed to be the dramatic bit. Still, very good book. Rating: B+.

Paths Not Taken

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2013 by crookedreviews

Next up on the hit parade is Paths Not Taken. Set immediately after the previous book, John Taylor is on his way to his office to figure out how to start facing his mother. He needs allies and he needs information. So he heads to his office for the very first time. To his surprise, he finds it in a fairly well off business area of the Nightside, protected by his secretary Cathie and very powerful magicks.

His current plan is to go to the Time Tower and ask Old Father Time (a character from the book Shadows Fall) and forewarned is forearmed. So he’s sitting and waiting for his ultra high tech computers to give him anything to work with, a client falls in his lap. Almost literally. Eamonn Mitchell is an average worker bee from real London who got shunted to the Nightside and is now being accosted by previous versions of himself. And what do you know, he just happens to John’s business card in his hand, saying he could help. Too bad John doesn’t have business cards.

After two previous Eamonn’s wreak havoc in his office, he heads to Strangefellows on the basis that both he and his new client need very large drinks. That and Merlin’s magic will likely protect them from any serious harm. How wrong his is. Two older versions of Eamonn show up, equipped with probability wands like the previous two. After handling them, John and Eamonn hook up with Tommy Oblivion, the existential detective (he specializes in cases that may or may not have actually happened).

Figuring that the best place to get answers is the Nightside branch of the client’s company, they wander off into the night and eventually make it to the Widow’s Mite Insurance company. Turns out the company, with some prompting from Walker, used Eamonn as bait for Count Video (no longer skinless). A brief battle later and things work out for poor Eamonn, and for John and Tommy who get generous checks from the Widow’s Mite.

John talks Tommy into time traveling with him and they head for the Time Tower. They’re waylaid by some seriously scary Walkerness called the Shadow Men. They are just shadows who can carry you off to wherever Walker is. Apparently it is very much less than pleasant. Tommy uses his gift of existentialism to get them to Time Tower Square and away from the Shadow Men and they are met by Suzie Shooter.

Turns out, Old Father Time was expecting all three of them, which can be either good or bad depending on how you look at it. So they ask him to send them back to the beginning of the Nightside so they can figure out how to beat Lilith. Only Lilith has other ideas and stops their trek some hundreds of years before present time, just after King Arthur’s death (yeah, he’s totally real). They don’t know why they were stopped here but they go exploring and eventually figure that they need Merlin’s help to get them further back in time.

They go to Strangefellows (eventually) which was then called Avalon and run by former cup bearer to the gods Hebe. They don’t succeed in sweet talk or logic so they get Merlin drunk off his ass. And then they steal his heart right out of his chest. At this point Tommy grows a conscience (because young witch Nimue died trying to save Merlin’s life) and tries to change what they’re doing. He wants to bring Merlin back, bring back the age of Arthur. John and Suzie kick the crap out of him and send him back to the Nightside (we see where he ends up in an earlier book. Ah, time travel).

John figures out how to trigger the magic in Merlin’s heart and they end up several hundred years further back in Roman times. Still, it isn’t far enough back. So they go in search of a god or a power to send them back again. Only they run afoul of people more desperate than even they are and they are turned over to Herne the Hunter and his wild hunt. To win their freedom, John must run the gauntlet and make it from the wild woods to the city limits. But Herne underestimates John’s sheer deviousness and though he is mortally wounded, he makes the city.

Once there, Herne tries to give further chase, feeling cheated from his prey. He tries to follow and the Lord of Thorns strips him of his power, binding him to wander the Nightside doing penance. He then heals John of his wounds and sends them the rest of the way back.

John and Suzie end up a long time before humans are even a thought on the horizon. They watch Lilith create the Nightside with a single word. And then, with the help of two angels (one from above and one from below), they go face down Lilith in her newly created paradise. It almost goes horribly wrong but then John pulls a trick. Lilith tried to kill him by sucking out his life force through their bond as mother and son. So he reverses it and weakens her to the point where she can be banished later on like they know happens. And then they go home. What happens next? That’s answered in Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth, which is what I’ll be reading next.

This book was great. There’s great drama and just the right amount of humor. Rating: A.

Hex and the City

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , on December 8, 2013 by crookedreviews

I would love to know where Simon R. Green comes up with his book titles. They are so delightfully punny. In my continuation of rereading the Nightside books, I have just finished Hex and the City. This book finds John hired by one of the (many) Transient Beings, Lady Luck, to find the true origins of the Nightside. This is something that John has secretly always wanted to do and now someone handed it to him on a silver platter, with the added bonus of finding out who his mother is at the end.

Ultimately, John decided this was too good to pass up, even if it was extremely dangerous for all involved. Knowing he would need serious backup, John went out to find a man called Madman. Madman, at some point in time, used some sort of complicated mathematics to find out the truth behind reality. Turns out this was a really, really bad idea. The poor man went cuckoo and due to his (new) nature, he changed things around him, seemingly at random but who knows. Also, he comes equipped with his own personal soundtrack. How cool would that be? You could know who was angry, sad, in love all by the sound of their music. :-D

At any rate, John finds Madman at least moderately lucid and talks him into this quest. From there, they go to the Nightside’s library and pick up a man named Sinner. Sinner’s name is Sidney and he made a deal with the Devil. Not a devil but the devil. Some time ago Sinner called up the Devil to this realm and promised him his soul in return for True Love. Which is kind of an odd request to make of Satan don’t you think? Well, the Devil agreed and sent him a woman for ten years.

Of course, the Devil lies and the woman turned out to be a succubus named Pretty Poison. Even knowing this, Sinner agreed to go down to Hell when the Devil came to collect his soul. Not too long later (no specific times of course, just some time later), Sinner was kicked out. After all the lies, he still loved Pretty Poison. Of course, since he sold his soul to the Devil, he wasn’t welcome in Heaven. So he went to the Nightside to find a way to get to one or the other realm, Pretty Poison by his side because she just could not understand why Sinner still loved her.

Before they can so much as think about where to start looking, Walker sends his infamous Reasonable Men to bring John in. The Reasonable Men are a bunch of Old School, snobby, aristocratic tits who think that they are better than everybody else. John and the others make short work of them, killing them all. Knowing that there will be consequences and wondering why Walker is so keen for him to stop, he leaves the others in the library and heads to the Londinium Club.

The Londinium Club (and this is not the last time it will feature in a book) is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, and most exclusive club in the Nightside. Strictly members only. John only gets in because Walker is expecting him. Walker unsuccessfully tries to talk John out of this line of questioning to no avail. Before John leaves though, he catches a snippet of conversation between Walker and a mercenary named Bad Penny (always turning up, don’t you know). Walker has authorized her to take John out if need be.

Shaken, John heads out to rejoin his party when he gets a call from a panicked Alex Morrisey, which isn’t something that happens often. Alex is hard to rattle. But when Merlin Satanspawn is trying to manifest through you, you get scared. If your sane. So John rushes off to Strangefellows and finds Merlin already there. They have a conversation that is extremely polite given the fact that Merlin isn’t always but Merlin sends him to find an old, wild god by the name of Herne the Hunter. And then he leaves, letting Alex back into reality.

John uses Alex’s special membership card to Strangefellows to bring Sinner, Pretty Poison and Madman in from the library. Its drinks all around while they discuss how to find Herne. Finally John has no choice but to use his gift to find him and find Herne he does, only something else finds him. The Harrowing break through Strangefellows natural, Merlin built shielding but it weakens them. There is a moment of collective ass kicking and then Sinner suggests John use his gift to figure out who his enemies are.

Of course this has never occurred to John. Don’t you just hate it when a simple solution is staring you in the face and you just don’t think of it until someone else suggests it? Doing as Sinner suggests, John finds that his until now unknown enemies are some current major players in the Nightside: Jessica Sorrow (no longer the Unbeliever in the terrible future that Could Be), Count Video, the King of Skin, Larry Oblivion the dead detective (never liked him. Self-righteous asshole. Maybe its being dead) and Annie Abattoir (who uses blood magic). They’re trying to kill John from the future to prevent a war from happening.

He can’t do anything about it now though, but it helps to know who he needs to contact in the future. Right now, they go to a place called Rats Alley in Uptown. Or rather, just to the side or in back of Uptown. Its a dark, dark alley where everyone who hits rock bottom goes to eventually. It is revealed that at some time in John’s past, he himself lived there. Its where he met Razor Eddie, who still frequents the place from time to time.

The find Herne in a box and he eventually spills some of his story. He used to be the god of the wild hunt, among other things, but the advent of cities and the narrowing of the wild places have curtailed his powers. Though he does not know who created the Nightside, he suggests that they talk to the Lord of Thorns, who is the “overseer of the great experiment” (as he says later). The Lord of Thorns is generally thought of as one of the scariest beings in the Nightside, not the least because he can easily dispatch pretty much everyone of every station.

Deciding that that suggestions is quite definitely a last resort, Sinner suggests visiting an old creature called the Lamentation. The Lamentation jerks them about for a bit, giving them guesses and half truths, before trying to kill them. John finds the magic holding the Lamentation together and rips it out, causing them to revert to their original state, a couple of powerless humans. John and the others leave them defenseless because the Lamentation is so awful, has done such awful things, that it doesn’t deserve protection in any form.

This leaves them with just the Lord of Thorns as an option as to where to go to next. Just as they are leaving the Lamentation (or what’s left of it), Bad Penny turns up (see what I did there?). She is ultimately unsuccessful in killing any of them and sulks off to Walker while they head for the Lord of Thorns. The path to the Lord of Thorns goes through the World Beneath, the sewers and tunnels of the Nightside. They climb down into the underworld and take what I can only guess is Charon’s barge to the opening of the Lord of Thorns’ lair.

He is being guarded, for some reason, by Beelzebub, who refuses them entry. Even Pretty Poison who is, technically, on his side. John uses his gift (kind of a crutch, don’t you think? This gets addressed in later books) and finds Beelzebub’s true name and uses it to banish him. Apparently, as a human, he shouldn’t be able to do that. Which leaves everyone wondering just what the hell he is, especially John.

They finally get to the Lord of Thorns and he is as scarily impressive as they thought. I pictured him as Christopher Lee as Sauron. :-) Unfortunately, he has no answers for them either. The Nightside was already old when he was first set in charge of it. So that’s really the end of the road for the investigation. No one else is as old as the Lord of Thornes, Herne or the Lamentation (to their knowledge). The problem is getting out and reporting to the client, Lady Luck.

See, Walker has sealed off quite a few of the exits and sent an army’s worth of people after the four of them. Pretty Poison reveals that she knew Walker long ago and in the biblical way, so she tries to go sweet talk him into letting them go. Its during this interlude that it was revealed that Walker, the Collector and John’s father (Charles) were responsible for the whole mess revolving around John’s mother to begin with.

See, back in the sixties, they were among those young professionals who thought that they should be rocketing to power and it just wasn’t happening. So the Collector came up with this plan called the Babalon Working. It was supposed to open a doorway to another place and make manifest a Transient Being that would be bound to their will. And it almost worked, but John’s mother was so much more powerful than them or the Transient Being. She forced her way into the world and eventually came to marry John’s father.

Pretty Poison fails at talking Walker out of bloodshed, so they used John’s membership card to Strangefellows to escape while the Lord of Thorns made mincemeat out of Walker’s people.  They’re all nursing very big drinks when Lady Luck comes striding into the bar and demanding an update. John gives it to her and that’s when Madman pipes up and reveals that, surprise! This Lady Luck is in fact John’s long lost mother!

We get a bit of exposition here where she explains that she is Lilith, Adam’s first wife (just a parable, dear, to help you understand) and that she created the Nightside. She wanted a place free of influence from Heaven and Hell. If she already knew this, then why did she hire John? Why, to make it easier for him to accept her being back. He basically tells her to fuck off, though of course before anyone can really do anything, Walker and his allies show up. Bad Penny, Pew and a bunch of combat magicians.

Deciding that its gone too far, Walker orders everyone taken out with prejudice. Lilith kills Pew easily, making John very mad. There is no one so close as an old enemy, don’t you think? Meanwhile, Sinner tries to protect Pretty Poison, Madman hides with Alex behind the bar and Bad Penny stabs John in the back. Angry, John uses his gift to find the source of Bad Penny’s magic and cuts it out of her, leaving her to fade out of reality. And that, of course, is when his enemies send their worst avatar yet.

A severely disfigured Suzie Shooter manifests in the bar. Grafted to her hand is the Speaking Gun. It has completely taken over her, making her quite insane. She unmakes a couple of the combat musicians and it is seriously disturbing. The others, hardened veterans of the Nightside, are crying and vomiting in response.  Well, Merlin is just not going to stand for that shit. He manifests just long enough to rip the Speaking Gun off Suzie Shooter, sending her and it into unknown space and time.

The combat magicians increase their attack on Sinner, needing to hit out at something, hurt something. Unable to take it any more, and finally understanding his love for her, Pretty Poison tries to save him by sacrificing herself. It’s an act of redemption that restores her former angelic glory and Sinner’s soul. They disappear up to heaven, leaving people momentarily stunned.

At that point, Madman has decided that he doesn’t like this reality so he uses his madness to force Lilith out…of at least the bar. It is too much to think that she’s permanently gone (spoilers: she isn’t). This uses up a great deal of his energy and he falls quite asleep in the bar. With the fight over, Walker warns that John has no friends in the Nightside any longer and that it is open season on him.

This book was just okay, I think. The best bits are Madman’s lines. They are some damn funny and occasionally poignant quips. Still, you kind of need to read this to get an idea of what is coming up in the next few books. So I’d rate this a C+/B-. Its clearly building to something big and bad. And Madman is awesome.

Nightingale’s Lament

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , on December 6, 2013 by crookedreviews

The third book in the Nightside series is Nightingale’s Lament. This one starts out true to Simon R. Green’s usual form of an easy or near wrapped up case to whet our appetites.  This case is one of sabotage at one of the Nightside’s power providers, Prometheus, Inc. Prometheus is run by one of John Taylor’s old aquaintences, a man referred to as the Mechanic because he could build anything.

Prometheus was experiencing all sorts of physical sabotage. Someone was literally tearing it apart and since Prometheus was a major player in the energy business, Walker sent John to figure out what was going on. What was going on was apparently the Mechanic had turned one of his friends, a man called the Sunslinger (powers of the sun, so a lot of energy right there). He’d murdered the Sunslinger on his wedding day (to another mutual friend) and stuck him in a spirit bottle to harness his sun energy. Well John will not stand for this. He releases the Sunslinger’s body and he finally gets peace with his (also dead) wife. The Mechanic dies quite violently at the hands of his energy harnessing machine, courtesy of John. This, of course, has the nasty consequence of causing power loss and rolling brownouts across the Nightside as Prometheus provided a solid chunk of power.

Knowing that this will come down hard on him, John skulks down to Strangefellows, hoping to hide from Walker and consequences. Only that doesn’t happen because he immediately comes upon a case. A father hires John to make sure that his daughter, an up and coming singer named Rossignol (French for nightingale) is okay. He doesn’t want John to drag the girl home, just to make sure that the daughter is happy and healthy since apparently the family hasn’t heard from her in a very long time and there are disturbing rumors surrounding her. It seems that Ross’s fans are starting to kill themselves, like a lot of them.

John reluctantly takes the case, though it doesn’t sound like his usual do. He soon finds out that he’s really quite wrong. There is something going on, he just can’t figure out what. There is no doubt in his mind that something is very wrong with Rossignol. He speaks to her face to face and she’s very vague and not quite focused. Concerned, he goes to see her representatives, the Cavendishes.

The Cavendishes just straight up have John beat down, no warnings. John manages to get away with the help of an old enemy, a blind vicar named Pew. Pew is convinced that John is an abomination and will bring about the end of the Nightside (the usual tale for John it seems). But as much as he wants John dead, he just can’t bring himself to kill him in cold blood. It isn’t honorable. So he helps John out with a healing spell and sends him on his way, not before trying to pull a fast one on John by taking John’s blood soaked coat. John lets him, as the coat self destructs when John gets too far away from it. I love the idea of John’s coat. It defends itself, self destructs when needed and hides all sorts of useful things. I want a coat like that. Well, maybe not the self destruction thing…

At any rate, John goes back to the place where Ross is performing, Caliban’s Cavern (a suitably monstrous name) in time to catch Ross’s latest performance. And he knows then that whatever happened to Ross is definitely causing people to kill themselves because of her singing. How does he know? Because an audience member kills himself at the club while she’s performing. But just what the hell is going on?

To help get answers, John goes to visit the Nightside newspaper the Night Times, run by Victorian adventurer and all around massively good guy Julian Advent. Julian fell through a timeslip long ago, having been pushed in there by his enemies the Murder Masques. Since then, Julian became an investigative reporter for the Night Times before becoming its owner/editor. He was still doing good and righting wrongs, just with the power of the news. So he always had an eye and ear on things.

After giving Julian the dish on the suicide-turned-riot at Caliban’s Cavern, the Night Times offices are beset by a tulpa of Ross. A tulpa is some sort of psychic sending. It looks like a person but isn’t one. It’s very fast, very strong and will only do what it’s programmed to do. In this case, attack John. It rampages through the reporter’s bullpen which startles a lot of people because the Night Times is seriously, seriously protected. Eventually, they find a single strand of the real Ross’s hair on John’s jacket and burn it. The tulpa gets destroyed and a somewhat aggravated Julian Advent sends John in search of the infamous Dead Boy, who knows more about death than everybody.

John finds Dead Boy outside the Nightside’s Necropolis, home to all funerals (and related rites) in the Nightside. Dead Boy has a job to do here. Since the power to the Necropolis was knocked out earlier (naughty John), some of those in the Necropolis who were cryofrozen started to thaw. And the thawed dead bodies got possessed by…something. Dead Boy was there to kick some arse on the basis that no one else really wanted to. John helps Dead Boy sort out the Necropolis mess, partly because it is his fault and partly because he wants Dead Boy in a cooperative mood.

After handling the situation (messily), Dead Boy agrees to help John with Ross. They sneak a message to Ross via one of her band members and meet her at a transvestite lounge called Divas!  Divas! is a place where transvestites dress as famous women (mostly singers) and perform. A great place to surreptitiously meet up with a famous singer, don’t you think? Dead Boy thought so too.

Once Ross shows up, we find out that she is, in fact, dead. Or at least mostly dead. Only there’s no Miracle Max here to make a miracle pill. They figure out that the Cavendishes murdered Ross to make her more pliable. This information doesn’t help John figure out how to help Ross. And it seems like that won’t happen as the Harrowing show up suddenly. John has used his gift one too many times and the Harrowing have found him.

With time running out for him, John tries to get Dead Boy to run with Ross, but she’s not having any of it. John is her only chance to fix what happened. Luckily for John, the Cavendishes’ hired gun, the new Count Entropy (formerly The Jonah), really wants John to suffer at his hands before he dies. He gets rid of the Harrowing using his awful magicks and proceeds to James Bond Villain the whole how-to. Trope-y for certain but I’ve watched enough “true crime” shows to know that some people actually do like to brag about their crimes, so we can suspend disbelief for this bit.

Finally, unable to take the bragging over her death any longer, Ross deliberately sings a sad song knowing that the full concentrated force of her accidental ability will lead to Count Entropy’s death. Spoilers: It does. Count Entropy pops out of existence and with that, the only thing holding Ross to the world. Some wishy-washy, time-wimey magic between John and Dead Boy brings Ross back.  The Cavendishes try to finish the job themselves only to be stopped by Julian Advent (who was literally waiting in the wings at Divas!) and walker.

Its a good book but not one of my favorite Nightsides. It sort of felt to me like a filler story between Agents of Light and Darkness and the next book Hex and the City (Simon R Green has pun-y titles). The best part of the story, I think, is the introduction of Dead Boy who is one of my all time favorite Simon R Green characters. He is completely irreverent and just a bit crazy. At any rate, its a decent book and I’d rate it a solid B-/B. Again, it felt like a filler novel.

Angels of Light and Darkness

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2013 by crookedreviews

I can’t really remember if I’ve posted about this before but since my current aim is to re-read all the Nightside books by Simon R. Green, I figured I’d review them all in order as well. So after Something from the Nightside we move on to Angels of Light and Darkness. This one is one of my favorite Nightside novels. Not sure why but I really love reading it.

We start out with John Taylor on a very tough, possibly deadly job. His job was to find out what  major player Jessica Sorrow the Unbeliever is looking for. The problem with that is in the adjective for Jessica Sorrow, the Unbeliever. She can ‘unbelieve’ you right out of existence. So John is sitting in the one really Christian church in the Nightside, an old and cold stone edifice called St. Jude’s (fitting name for a Nightside church). He has a shoe box with him, with what he hopes will stop Jessica Sorrow from storming about the Nightside. Turns out that in the box is a teddy bear. Jessica’s own teddy bear and it is, in fact what she is looking for.

Taylor is beyond relieved that he survived his tete-a-tete with the Unbeliever but before he can leave St. Jude’s, someone else come’s running in, clearly distressed. Being who he is, John hides himself in the abundant shadows of the church, keen not to get involved in something dangerous so soon after his last harrowing job. A man in black (not that kind) with his eyes stitched shut runs right for the altar, begging for sanctuary. Something comes flowing in after him, a blackness darker than any shadow, moving across the floor.

The blackness demands that the man turn over the Grail to them. The man, clearly traumatized, agrees and hands over the package he was clutching to his chest. Turns out that the package did not contain the Grail. Irate, the blackness turns the now screaming man into what looks like a white statue, frozen in fear before it departs. John decides very firmly that he wants no part of this (which comes back to bite him shortly) and he heads off to Strangefellows.

Once in the bar, John finds out that it isn’t the Holy Grail that has come to the Nightside but the Unholy Grail. This is, at least in this story, the cup that Judas Iscariot drank from at the Last Supper. The cup is a curse object so powerful that it brings out the absolute worst in people. Previous owners are said to include Torquemada and Hitler. Needless to say, it never seems to bring good luck to the owners.

At this point, John hired by an emissary of the Vatican itself, an undercover priest by the name of Jude. Insert obligatory “Hey Jude” joke here. The price is 50,000 pounds up front plus an additional quarter million upon delivery of the  “somber chalice”. John agrees and that’s when a target really gets painted on his back. Because of John’s gift of being to find pretty much anything, it means a lot of people want him to find the Unholy Grail, either for pay or under threat. John Calmly deals with all comers who accost him at the bar and sets off to do two things: find a private place to use his gift to find this thing quickly and to collect Suzie Shooter for protection.

He really should have found Suzie first. John ducks into a dark doorway and settles down to use his gift when angels rip his mind right out of his body and transport him up to what Green calls the Shimmering Realms. Turns out the angels on both sides want this thing to win their war against the other side. So naturally, they need John Taylor to find it for them because neither side is actually capable of doing that. John declines and when the angels don’t look like letting them go, he pits one side against the other and sneaks away in the confusion.

With the use of his gift right out, John collects Suzie and starts shaking down people for clues. He goes to an S&M club called the Pit and intimidates the owning cabal, the Demon Lordz. Despite the silly spelling, the Demon Lordz are actual demons. They’re low guys on the totem pole who escaped from the actual Pit for hot showers and coffee (no, really). They finally cop to the fact that they heard that the Fourth Reich has it.

The Fourth Reich are, as you may have guessed, next gen Nazis. No one in the Nightside cares for that lot apparently but they still get money from somewhere. So John and Suzie are quite looking forward to kicking ass and taking names but someone has clearly beat them to it. Every single member of the Fourth Reich is dead so no one can answer any questions. They do, however, find a clue. And that is another white human statue, a man made of salt (see what he did there). They’re fairly certain that this man has a connection to the one that John saw in St. Jude’s but he’s not wearing anything that would identify who or what he’s with. But in his pockets is another clue! And a weapon.

The weapon is the Speaking Gun. The principle is this: everything has a hidden name from the time that god created the universe. The Speaking Gun is designed to find/know this hidden name and to speak it backwards, thereby unmaking/unraveling the thing it is pointed at. Its a hideous thing made out of someone’s living flesh and bone and it hates everything and everyone. If you try to use it, it will try (and most likely succeed) in taking over your will.

The clue is a card from another player in the Nightside, the infamous Collector, who we met in the last book. The Collector does just what his name implies, he collects anything and everything that the is unique and/or historically significant. He doesn’t care who owns it. He doesn’t care who wants it. He is a horder. He wants what he wants and he will not give it up. So either he has the Unholy Grail or he is actively looking for it.

To figure out which it is, they go after a group that is known to work for the Collector, the Bedlam Boys. The Bedlam Boys used to be a 90s boy band. When they’re popularity in the real world tanked, they joined the Nightside and fell in with the Collector. In exchange for their (meager) talent, he grants them an awful psychic gift. They bring out people’s fears and use it to terrorize people into giving them what they want. The Bedlam Boys are in the midst of shaking down a chili joint (Hot n Spicy, 3 toilets, no waiting) when John and Suzie confront them.

John felt that they could stand up to the Bedlam Boys if they just lock down their minds enough. Turns out, that wasn’t the case. John is confronted with his worst, mommy related fears. And that makes him angry. And you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry (yes, I went there). John breaks free of their spell and breaks Suzie free from her fears. Now fair warning for this bit, it is graphic and disturbing. Possibly the most graphic and disturbing thing that Simon R Green has ever written. I won’t go into detail other than to say it involves incest. You read this bit at your own discretion.

At this point, they see their first angel in person. Angels, for some reason are bland, grey men in bland, grey suits. You can’t quite look at them but you know they are there. And they are far scarier than the Bedlam Boys ever were. The Bedlam Boys are turned into salt statues as the angel goes through them toward John and Suzie. John pulls out the disturbing Speaking Gun and frightens the angel off with it. But it takes all of John’s willpower to pry the gun from his hands. Its frankly traumatizing to hold it. This time Suzie carries it under the logic that she’s very good with guns (she really is).

They rifle the Bedlam Boys for clues and find a business card for a performer, Nasty Jack Starlight. They go to an old and shut down theatre called The Styx where Starlight is said to be playing. The Styx was shut down long ago because someone tried to open a Hellmouth during a performance of the Caledonian Tragedy (aka The Scottish Play, the one whose true name you can’t say for fear of bringing bad luck during a performance). Starlight is performing at the Styx for a group of undead with his partner, a life sized rag doll that may have at one point been a human woman).

Starlight claims not to know anything and tries to scarper when another angel arrives on the scene. Nasty Jack Starlight goes up in flames, which makes me fairly certain that this was an angel of the light and Nasty Jack was just too nasty to let live. Suzie this time brings out the Speaking Gun and runs the angel off and she too has a traumatizing experience with the gun. Once she and John pull themselves as together as they can be, they’re out of ideas on where to look.

Luckily, a bit of deus ex machina is on our side and Razor Eddie calls John up. He knows precisely where the Unholy Grail is but he won’t say over the phone. John and Suzie agrees to meet up with Eddie in person, at the warehouse of an arms dealer (not unusual in the Nightside at all). Eddie tells them that he himself had retrieved the Unholy Grail from a bunch of Warriors of the Cross (very hard core Christian crusaders – in all senses of the word – determined to bring down the Nightside) and delivered it to the Collector. However, once he did that, he started feeling like that was a very bad thing to do. So he tells John that the Collector is currently hiding his possessions on the moon, under the Sea of Tranquility (because awesome).

That doesn’t help them get up there, but they know someone that might. They’re headed out when they’re waylaid by Walker. Walker had previously said that he’d been ordered to move his people out of the Nightside and let the angels fight it out. Things have changed since the angels (which side we don’t know) contacted the Authorities and demanded they find the Unholy Grail. So Walker is determined to use John (in all ways possible) to find the Unholy Grail and he doesn’t care who he turns it over to. It isn’t his job to question the Authorities, just do what they ask.

He threatens Suzie and Eddie and when John quite rightly points out that the pair can handle themselves, Walker’s trump card shows up. A mercenary woman called La Belle Dame Sans Merci (Belle for short) who likes to make trophies  out of her conquests. A werewolf pelt is grafted to her back (regeneration), dragon’s hide as a breast plate (impenetrable) and boots made from the leg skin of a minor Greek deity (speed) among other things. She guts Suzie and throws Razor Eddie out a three story window.

John takes her down in a suitably hard fashion and uses Belle’s own werewolf pelt to regenerate Suzie. Walker, of course, disappears in the confusion which is just as well as another angel shows up. Razor Eddie takes the Speaking Gun and distracts it long enough for John and Suzie to make a run for it. They don’t get far. Angels from both sides have zeroed in on them.  With no other choice, John uses a special card made for him by Alex Morrisey and transports them both directly into Strangefellows.

John’s plan is not a very nice one. John needs Merlin. The Merlin, who just happens to be buried under Strangefellows. Of course, that can only happen if he manifests through his descendant, Alex Morrisey, and it isn’t very pleasant for Alex. Regardless, John forces the transformation using his gift to find the trigger in Alex. Merlin is powerful enough, even dead over a thousand years, that both sets of angels instantly stop their approach.

John has Merlin pull the Collector into the bar, where he confronts the squirrely little man about the Unholy Grail and eventually browbeats him into giving it up. Merlin then transports John, Suzie and the Collector to the Collector’s base on the moon. The Collector doesn’t give up easily though, and attempts to have his guardian robots kill John and Suzie. They, however, just start blowing apart his collection as well as the robots until the Collector finally gives in.

Once back down in Strangefellows, Walker once more tries to push John into giving up the Unholy Grail. Only it doesn’t work because John is a bit more powerful than people give him credit for. For once, Walker backs down and leaves. And in comes John’s client Jude. Jude turns out to be Judas Iscariot. The Unholy Grail was once his cup. To render it useless, he pours wine into it and blesses it because he really is a priest now.  Finally, the angels leave because the Unholy Grail is now just a cup.

The book ends a little abruptly but I think that’s because he knew that more were coming. Again, I just love this book. I think it lends a bit of humanity to John and Suzie, despite how hard their characters are. So I highly recommend it. Rating: A.

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