The Unnatural Inquirer, by Simon R. Green (Ace, 2007)

In the Nightside, the nasty, black heart of London where it’s always 3 a.m., there’s always a mystery that needs solving, an object that needs retrieving, or trouble that needs shooting. Perhaps that’s why John Taylor, the Nightside’s most infamous (and sometimes scariest) private detective has been getting a lot of work lately. Fresh off his latest batch of cases (including a brief visit to the H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Library, and a rather traumatic episode at the Nightside’s most dangerous amusement park), John gets called in by the Unnatural Inquirer, a tabloid/gossip rag with a penchant for sensationalism that goes above and beyond the norm. It seems someone has made a DVD, containing a television broadcast with actual evidence of the Afterlife, but before he could sell the contents to the Inquirer, he went missing. John Taylor’s new job? Find Pen Donovan and his Afterlife Recording, and bring them to the Inquirer, in exchange for a cool million pounds. For that much money, even John Taylor’s on the case.

Of course, everyone else wants the Recording as well, and some of them don’t play nice, or fair. And some consider shooting first to be playing nice. Oh, and Complication #1: John’s been saddled with a partner. A demon (literally) girl reporter, named Bettie Divine, who’s starting to feel real nice, cuddled up against his side when danger hits. And Complication #2: A new power struggle is brewing in the streets of the Nightside, and all four factions want John on their side, and aren’t willing to hear “no” or “sod off” as an answer. From one end of the Nightside to the other, John Taylor and Bettie Divine will help tear the city apart in order to find Pen Donovan and the Afterlife Recording, and Heaven/Hell/-Someone- help whoever gets in the way.

The Unnatural Inquirer is the eighth book in the Nightside series, but that’s okay. Like most of them, it’s fairly stand-alone, though it does pick up on a few elements and relationships from prior books. As always, Green writes with his usual hyper-octane manner, injecting your standard urban fantasy setup with a brilliant cocktail of widescreen adventure and psychedelic insanity, resulting in an over-the-top blend of adventure, dark humor, and strange magic. The characterization is stylized; no one’s ever going to accuse most of the Nightside’s inhabitants of being overly complex, and things often border on preposterous, but watching them skirt the edges of believability is, after all, half the fun of a series like this. John Taylor, the Collector, Shotgun Suzie, Walker, Bettie Divine, Alex Morrisey, they all have their memorable moments.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I do all the ones in the series. It’s fast-paced, entertaining, and appealing, a guilty pleasure in the same way some action movies can be. My only complaint is that this one’s in hardback, first of the series to make its debut as such, and at a mere 246 pages, it may be asking a little much of the readers to drop that kind of money on such a quick read. Also, I’m not entirely sure the plot is quite strong enough to warrant a hardback debut; I’d almost have expected something grander in scale to celebrate the new format. Fans of Green and of the Nightside won’t be disappointed, though, for this book has everything you’ve come to expect from the series: a bizarre mystery, eccentric and dangerous characters, and yet more outrageously inventive locations to help flesh out the Nightside . . . as well as appearances from all the usual suspects and miscreants. With my quibbling about the hardback status aside, I highly recommend The Unnatural Inquirer.

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