Nightingale: a hellblazing anti-hero

nightingaleThis is a chunky collection of ripping yarns, which blend tall tales of the X-Files type into a series of contemporary gumshoe stories. In a book of two very different halves, the opening episodes are set in a convincingly realised, scruffy south London. The spookynatural aspects of the story are taken at face value but a lot of each plot involves good old fashioned detective work, before the arcane influence is revealed and outflanked (or maybe not. Nightingale doesn’t win every hand he’s dealt).

This was my first encounter with Jack Nightingale, and it didn’t matter that I was unfamiliar with the man or his small investigation agency. Each stand-alone story is entirely self-contained and fills you in on the necessary aspects of Jack’s background – ex-copper, plenty of contacts in the Met, and an even more interesting address book when it comes to folks who dabble in the dark arts.

Stephen Leather’s storytelling is sufficiently accomplished that the introduction of Nightingale’s touchstones into each tale – his younger, sparky, IT-enabled assistant, his dodgy old MGB, his smoking, her Starbucks habit – don’t become tiresome. In fact, I was surprised by how comfortable I rapidly became with the characters, and how satisfying each story proved to be. Each mystery is accompanied by a well-plotted resolution, backed up with enough small arms savvy and procedural detail to satisfy fans of CSI.

Perhaps my feeling of familiarity with the early episodes reflects the way they ring all the right bells for someone who grew up on the exploits of John Constantine. Nightingale’s tales are a lot less gruelling than the soul-scorching psyche-bending misadventures of the hellblazer’s original incarnation… but the Birdman could easily be a manifestation of JC’s better intentions.

Halfway through this anthology, Jack relocates to the USA and is no longer an independent player. Instead he’s become the hired hand of a wealthy satanist, tidying up weird incidents which might reflect badly on his ambiguous employer. Jack’s dragged himself into the 21st century and can operate an iPhone and SatNav, and it’s obvious that his relationships with infernal critters are more ‘complicated’ than they appear in the earlier episodes. These stories are more ‘monster of the week’, and feature more running, screaming and slashing than the opening, detection-centred yarns.

The final chunk of ebook is the screenplay for an unmade Nightingale movie, so the actual stories end a little earlier than you might expect from the progress bar. Even so this anthology provided nearly three hours of reading – and that’s stacks for me; I normally rattle through short stories in two shakes of a demon’s tail. Excellent value, then, and it’s easy to forgive the occasional typos which are the bane of any editor’s life.

Recommended if you enjoy Harry Dresden or the Iron Druid series.

8/10
Nightingale: a short story collection by Stephen Leather is available at Amazon
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

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