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Nightingales Lament by Simon R. Green
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace / Penguin Putnam PPBK  ISBN/ITEM#: 0441011632
Date: April 2004 List Price 6.50 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Nightingale's Lament is the third of Simon R. Green's Nightside novels, featuring Taylor and the weird cases into which he's drawn. Taylor is hired by a worried French financier to find out what's become of his daughter, a nightclub singer named Rossignol (French for nightingale). Nasty rumors swirl around her performances; evidently, fans are committing suicide, but in the jaded funhouse/nightmare world of the Nightside, that only adds to the allure. Taylor's investigations lead him to confront Rossignol's sinister managers, Mr. and Mrs. Cavendish, and their uncanny agent Count Entropy. He also befriends Rossignol, who seems entirely oblivious to the disastrous nature of her talent, and her former manager, the amiable hunchback Ian Auger. In true damsel in distress fashion, Rossignol adds her plea to Taylor to find out what is going on. Being who he is, however, Taylor cannot ignore a beautiful woman's cry for help, no matter the danger.

Thwarted by the vicious Cavendishes, Taylor seeks out Nightside legends Dead Boy and Julien Advent, the Victorian Adventurer. Their assistance proves invaluable, even as he is pulled into side adventures like preventing an invasion of the Nightside by cryogenically preserved bodies possessed by Cthulu-esque intelligences and stopping an evil version of Rossignol from a rampage. Ultimately, there is a final confrontation between heroes and villains, the plots are laid bare and the truth is revealed. Taylor comes no closer to gaining the self-knowledge he lacks - his singular talent, the ability to find anything, is as much burden as blessing, while the unknown nature of his mother hangs over his head like the sword of Damocles. Green cleverly keeps these background mysteries boiling along, enriching the backdrop of his world while his characters keep themselves busy in the foreground.

Taylor is a fascinating blend of types. He's a private eye from the Sam Spade school whose self-knowledge is dangerously incomplete. His parentage alone has brought him enemies - among them the blind hermit Pew, whose help he seeks after a terrible beating leaves him near dead - but his reputation as a virtually unstoppable force of nature and his take-no-prisoners style has made him many more. The narrative is told first-person, so the reader is invited into the Nightside through Taylor's world-weary perspective, another nod to the film noir roots of the character.

The Nightside itself is the other constant running through all these novels. It is the "dark heart of London," where it is always night-time and oddities from all of time and space wander for entertainment, business, vengeance or whatever. People and objects from science fiction, horror, fantasy and every other literary genre mix and meet here, resembling a demented and evil version of Toontown or an outpost of Hell itself. Rossignol, her chorus girls from Caliban's Cavern, the enthralled Goths and the eerie Somnambulists, as well as all the other walk-on characters, make the Nightside a rich, fascinating place, truly a setting that is memorable long after the book is closed. The Nightside is a place no sensible person would ever want to visit - but which a reader will savor time after time.

Like Green's other novels - his science fiction Deathstalker series and Blue Moon and Hawk & Fisher fantasies - the Nightside books crackle with possibilities. In the hands of a less skilful writer, this might be seen as weird for the sake of weird, but Green cross-pollinates genres with gleeful abandon, juxtaposing pop culture tropes with obscure mythic archetypes, bringing a wild inventiveness to this mix of mystery and horror. Even better, he throws in small bits that link the series together. In Lament, there's an offhand reference to another novel's villain. It's a reference that would be easy to overlook, but much like Stephen King and other prolific, multi-genre writers, Green seems to enjoy weaving connections between his works and making these disparate books part of a greater whole.

Nightingale's Lament is an excellent addition to Green's impressive and diverse body of work. Fans of modern urban or dark fantasy, such as Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden novels, will be rewarded by picking up this book. However, since this is the third in a series, a reader should start with Something From The Nightside and Agents Of Light And Darkness, in order to get the full story. There are some creepy and horrific things here, though, so be warned: these books are not for the squeamish.

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