Only the most recent posts pop up on the HOME page. For searchable lists of titles/series reviewed on this Blog, click on one of the Page Tabs above. On each Page, click on the series name to go directly to my review.

AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


Author:  Simon R. Green  
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor—3   
Publisher and Titles:  Severn House Publishers Ltd.
     The Dark Side of the Road (5/2015hardcover and e-book; 11/2015paperback)
     Dead Man Walking (9/2016hardcover and e-book)
     (At least three more books to come: one already 
      with the publisher and two more on contract)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 8/10/2016 to include a review of Dead Man Walking, the second novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the first novel.

                    NOVEL 2: Dead Man Walking                    

     “Call me Ishmael. Ishmael Jones. I am the man in the shadows, that even the shadows are afraid of. The secret agent whose life is the greatest secret of all. And some of the cases I work are trickier than others.” 

     A rogue agent has come in from the cold and wants to spill his secrets. The Organization wants Ishmael to find out if Frank Parker is who he says he is, what he really knows, and why he has emerged from the shadows after all this time. 

     Ishmael heads to Ringstone Lodge in Yorkshire where Parker is being held to find that an atmosphere of fear and suspicion prevails. As he and his fellow residents are menaced by a series of alarming and inexplicable incidents, Ishmael sets out to prove that it’s human trickery rather than any supernatural being behind the seemingly ghostly goings-on. But matters take an unexpected turn when one of their number is brutally murdered, and once again Ishmael must turn detective in order to entrap a twisted killer before they strike again.

     This plot is similar to The Dark Side of the Road in that the story is a murder mystery set in an isolated manor house in which one of the guests/residents is killing the othersone by one. The story begins when Ishmael's new Colonel commands him to take the lead in debriefing a rogue agent who has come back to the Organization. Frank Parker promises to dish the dirt on the Organization's many enemies, including some traitors within its own ranks. Ishmael's task is to ascertain whether the man is truly who he claims to be.

     Porter is being imprisoned in a steel-barred basement cell at Ringstone Lodge, a long-time Organization internment center located in the middle of nowhere. The regular Ringstone staff has been evacuated, leaving just a short list of characters, each with his or her own special role in the plot: 

 > Donald MacKay, a retired Regimental Sergeant Major who has been head of security at Ringstone for three years.
  Alan Baxter and Karl Redd, two antagonistic security guards who openly despise and defy Ishmael at first sight.
  Dr. Alice Hayley and Dr. Robert Doyle, two interrogators who are supposed to get information from Parker. They are extremely hostile to Ishmael and Penny and are decidedly curious about Ishmael's backstory
  > Philip Martin, the twenty-something, nerdy computer technician who supervises the interior and exterior surveillance systems.

     Accompanying Ishmael is his new partner (and lover), Penny Belcourt, whose family was destroyed during the events of The Dark Side of the Road. Here, Ishmael explains their relationship: "We loved each other as much as two people can when one of them isn't entirely human." Penny is just as smart, sassy, and fearless as Eddie Drood's Molly Metcalf, and just as entertaining. 

     As soon as Ishmael and Penny arrive, they begin hearing tales of supernatural goings-on at Ringstone Lodge: heavy footsteps in the halls in the middle of the night, flickering lights, interference with the lodge's state-of-the-art security cameras, and flickering images on security computer screens of an unidentifiable man running through the hallways. Outside the Lodge is the previous owner's family graveyard, which contains the grave of an accused witch, so some of the Lodge's inhabitants suspect that her spirit may have stopped in for some spooky visits.

     The plot takes off when someone is found stabbed to death in a securely locked room. Penny and Ishmael have already survived one murder-in-a-mansion bloodbath, so they're pretty sure that they will make it through this one. And so would everyone else, if they'd only follow Ishmael's constant demand that they stay together. But if they did that, there wouldn't be a story, and besides, these characters view Ishmael as a pompous, conceited know-it-all who can't possibly live up to his impossibly exaggerated reputation. So...they begin to go off aloneone by oneand mayhem ensues.

     The best thing about all of Green's novels is his characteristic dry humor, particular when it comes to unveiling the personality traits of his characters. Even if you presented me with the following sentence completely out of context, I'd be able to give it a chuckle and identify Green as its author: "He looked the pizza parlour over as though he'd never set foot in such an establishment before and now, having done so, was convinced he'd been right all along." This revealing and humorous line could have been spoken by any of Green's protagonists, from John Taylor to Eddie Drood to Ishmael Jones. Here is Ishmael's take on the initial impression he makes on the residents of Ringstone Lodge: "A group of people stood waiting to meet us. They all had that look about them: fascinated to meet an actual field agent in the flesh, staring at me like I was some rare species in a zoo and just a bit disappointed I wasn't Daniel Craig."

     In a slender story thread woven through the main plot, Ishmael struggles with nightmares in which his dark inner, original self threatens to overwhelm his human self. He tells Penny, "Sometimes I wonder if I'm just something that dreamed it was a man and loved it. And I am so scared of waking up..." He continues to have a nagging fear: "What if I was not a man? What if I was just a cage for something worse?"

     If you are a reader of mysteries, you know that when authors drop specific details into their plots, those details can be either red herrings or pertinent clues to the solution of the mystery. In chapter two, Green gives us some very specific details, and it's up to you the reader to figure out which are important. If you guess correctly, you'll solve the mystery yourself before Green does his on-the-page reveal, but if you make the wrong choice, you'll have a satisfying surprise in the final chapter. Either way, this novel is an entertaining read with lots of suspense, quirky characters, snappy dialogue, and dry humor. This is a short noveljust 201 pagesso it's a great book to take along on your summer vacation. Also, if you (like me) have forgotten the details of the big reveal in the first book about Ishmael's origin story, Green eventually gets around to a recapitulation of that story about half-way through the book. (That's the problem with reading several books a week, including lots of series in which there is a year between books. It's hard to keep all of the story lines intact in my memory so I'm always grateful when authors reprise the key points from previous books.)

     Although the title page and both list this book as having a September 1st publishing date, I checked it out of my local library on August 1st and Amazon is shipping the book out now. As I write this review, Amazon has not yet uploaded an excerpt, and I could not find any other source of excerpts during an Internet search. 
The UK publication date was May 4th, but Amazon UK does not offer an excerpt either. If and when I can find an excerpt, I’ll add the link here.

    Ishmael Jones—the series hero—is "someone who had learned to walk through the world without making ripples because he couldn't afford to be noticed. Who lived under the radar because he couldn't afford to be found out. A man who drove on the dark side of the road." (The Dark Side of the Road, p. 2) Ishmael is employed to search out secrets, investigate mysteries and shine a light in dark places.

     The series is set in modern-day England—a world that is mostly human and seemingly normal. But Ishmael knows better. After all, he has been hunting down unspeakable monsters since 1963. Back in his early days as a mercenary monster hunter he worked for Black Heir, Great Britain's secret government agency that deals with alien affairs ("Real aliens, that is. Visitors from Beyond, and all that."). For the past fifteen years, he has worked for the Organization under the supervision of the Colonel. Over the years, Ishmael and the Colonel have forged a father-son relationship that becomes both tragic and ironic in book one. Although Ishmael knows that he and the Colonel work for the Organization, he knows absolutely nothing about the Organization, and that's the way he wants it. Ishmael knows only that he gets his missions from the Colonel and that the Colonel protects Ishmael from his many pursuers. Ishmael explains that he deals "with people and things that the world was better off without. Sometimes I killed people. And sometimes I killed things that weren't even a little bit people. And I never felt bad about it once." (The Dark Side of the Road, p. 9) 

     If you are a fan of Simon R. Green's fiction, you'll immediately recognize Ishmael as being yet another in Green's string of smart, wry, competent, understated heroesjust like Eddie Drood and John Taylor. Click HERE to read my reviews of the books in the SECRET HISTORIES/EDDIE DROOD series. Click HERE to learn more about Green's NIGHTSIDE series.

                    BOOK 1:  The Dark Side of the Road                    

     Leave it to Simon R. Green to take a dark-and-stormy-night murder mystery and turn it inside out. The story begins like an Agatha Christie mystery with its isolated country-estate setting, snowstorm-bound cast of characters with secrets, and a serial killer in the midst of it all. Keep reading, though, and you'll soon run into two major paranormal identity twistsone regarding Ishmael and one regarding the murderer. It all adds up to an engrossing tale hallmarked by Green's inimitable sly, dry, and wry humor. Green sticks with the Christie model to the very end, revealing the murderer's identity before all of the surviving guests in the drawing room. Shades of Hercule Poirot!

     The story begins when the Colonel calls Ishmael to invite him to spend the Christmas holiday at his family's old country house, Belcourt Manor, located deep in the heart of rural Cornwall out in the middle of nowhere. The Colonel won't explain his reasons for the invitation except to say that he has a bad feeling about something that is going on at the Manor. Being a loyal employee, Ishmael jumps into his car and drives for hours through the worst snowstorm of the century, arriving at the Manor only to find that the Colonel has disappeared.

     Naturally, the guests at the Manor are a quirky group who appear to be enjoying one another's company. Under that sociable veneer, however, most of the house guests have dark secrets, and some have secret relationships with other guests. Green takes the first few chapters to set the scene and introduce Walter Belcourt, the family patriarch, and his guests: his first and second wives, his business associate, his daughter, his daughter's jilted boyfriend, and the second wife's female friend. Also in residence are a butler and a cook. So…Whodunnit? That's what Ishmael has to find out, but as the bodies pile up and the clues turn out to be overwhelmingly ambiguous, Ishmael sometimes fears that he will be unable to avenge the Colonel. Never fear, though. Green's heroes always pull through in the end.

     In the midst of all of the secrets held by the guests of the Manor, Ishmael has a major enigma in his own personal life. I won't reveal Ishmael's secret here. I'll just say that he suffers from periodic, surreal dreams that may or may not be buried memories or flashbacks to some horrible event in his past. When Ishmael tells his story to the reader (about a quarter of the way into the book), you might say to yourself, "Oh, I see. This must be science fiction," But you'd be wrongjust keep reading for the next genre twist.

     By the end of the story, Ishmael has teamed up with Penny, Walter Belcourt's daughter, who turns out to be an impudent, intrepid, up-for-anything adventurer who takes a liking to Ishmael (and vice versa). Her voice and her attitude remind me of Eddie Drood's girlfriend, Molly Metcalf.

     For me, the first three quarters of the book contain the most interesting and engrossing chapters as Green riffs through his character introductions  and sets up the mystery using the full, entertaining force of Ishmael's cynically amusing point of view. The final chapters, though, descend rapidly and unexpectedly into grisly, gory horror, and the true nature of the murderer seems wrong somehowas if Green just snatched it from a generic list of monsters that he keeps on hand just for that purpose. Nothing in the story prepares the reader for this character, so the ending feels improbable and flawed. 

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Dark Side of the Road on the book's page by clicking on the cover art. 

No comments:

Post a Comment