All out of monkeyshines today.
Wait...did that count?
So Dark the Night
by Cliff Burns (2010)
As I've said in previous posts (oh, go look them up yourself), there are a few themes and/or predicaments in the arts that always earn my affection. One is anthropomorphizing animals and/or inanimate objects, provided that it is done with skill and care and genuine wit. I will re-read Firmin and The Bear Went Over the Mountain and Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County again and again, and I will never tire of watching Toy Story and Babe and Ren and Stimpy. Conversely, I harbour absolutely no goodwill toward Hanna-Barbera cartoons, Garfield (comic or movies), Alvin & the Chipmunks, Marmaduke; you get the idea.One of the drawbacks of being virtually immortal, the way the sins accumulate, across centuries of villainy, avarice and deceit. The victims who refuse to rest easy, their roaming spirits bent of revenge.
Likewise, I love a good hardboiled detective/supernatural mashup, and don't ask me to explain why, 'cuz there ain't no satisfactory answer. I will re-watch Constantine and Lord of Illusions and Angel Heart without tiring; Jeff Vandermeer's beautifully noir novel Finch was one of the best I read last year; I pray that William Hjortsberg will write more; and the mere mention of Clive Barker writing a Harry D'Amour vs. Pinhead novel sets my soul a-fluttering with joy.
So Canadian author Cliff Burns writing up a novel of jaded detectives with supernatural abilities battling lovecraftian forces from beyond? Yeah, I'm all about that.
Cliff came to my attention in 2009, when he introduced me to his collection The Reality Machine, a gritty and sublime collection of sci-fi horror tales that took few prisoners. Cliff has finally seen fit to personally release his first novel, one that has been available as a download for free on his website for some time. I'm normally filled with aversion to self-published works (see: Minnow Trap, Blood & Wine, and this deadly serious example of how unhinged some people can be, and you tell me I'm altogether wrong), but I'm willing to admit my failings, as So Dark the Night is a zippy, fun, and gruesome dip into the monster mash.
Set in the fictional city of Ilium, Burns' pastiche follows the adventures of Cassandra Zinnea and Evgeny Nightstalk, two "shades...nocturnal souls, temperamentally unsuited for the humdrum, nine-to-five existence of the 'Gray' world." The sun-allergic work as nighttime-exclusive investigators who report to a mysterious Old Man for detective assignments of an altogether stranger ilk than the usual. Cassandra is a powerful adept, capable of reading people, attuned to the spiritual realm, and inadvertently poison to electric appliances. Nightstalk, the narrator, is the brawn, a thug with a gift for storytelling, a passion for pornography, and a heightened ability to withstand (and cause) copious amount of violence. It is a strange pairing, but it seems to work, as evidenced by Burns' playful footnotes of past cases.
A strange case of murderous arson brings a mysterious society to the duo's attention. Soon, their investigations lead them to shadowy groups such as The Brethren of Purity, and as their contacts dry up, wither away, completely burst into flame, or much worse - "with one cruel tug, his personality and soul are ripped from his body, his essence gobbled up, the extraneous bits tumbling piecemeal into absolute nothingness" - the twosome begin to piece together a plan that could destroy the fabric of the world.
Yeah, it's one of those kind of novels.
While the ghosts of Hammett, Chandler, Lovecraft, and Poe are all well and accounted for, So Dark the Night is its own peculiar beast. Burns has a lot of twisted fun playing the collage of influences against each other, and he tells a mean tale smoothly.
I can't say that So Dark the Night is a perfect structure. Despite having the deliberate trappings of a hardboiled 1940s-era film noir, the novel is set in the world of today, with somewhat unweildy results; references to Pierce Brosnan, Robert Mitchum, DVDs, and well-appointed television stereo systems seem out-of-place, serving to jar the reader out of Burns' tale. Sometimes, Nightstalk's narration is too 'modern,' again a problem of incongruity with the overall atmosphere. The novel is, at times, too aware of itself as it pertains to its literary forerunners.
Yet So Dark the Night is inherently enjoyable, a fast-paced and occasionally grizzly funhouse ride. As hints abound as to other adventures in the duo's canon, it would be a shame for this to be Zinnea and Nightstalk's only literary appearance.