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.