NOCTURNAL by Scott Sigler (Amazon) is a most curious creature. In all my years of reading I can’t remember coming across a book quite like it. This isn’t because NOCTURNAL features some brand new theme or idea, but because it is a book that showcases Sigler’s evolution as an author and still manages to be an inferior novel than its predecessors. Considered to be Sigler’s most ambitious novel to date, NOCTURNAL is a supernatural police procedural with a score of highs and lows.
Monsters lurk in the ruins of San Francisco’s past, striking out at night to hunt for those who won’t be missed in order to sake their blood thirst. Homicide detective Bryan Clauser is drawn to this dark secret by a crop of serial murders that bear chilling resemblance to his own twisted dreams. With his partner, Pookie Chang by his side, Bryan must uncover the mystery of Marie’s Children and the shadowy vigilante known as Savior who kills the killers with supernatural strength.
I was pumped to read NOCTURNAL, a whopping 500+ page urban fantasy police procedural from the notably twisted mind of Scott Sigler. Having recently read Sigler’s INFECTED (EBR Review), I expected no small amount of depravity and gore. INFECTED was a rough novel in many regards but it showed a certain potential that I was keen to see develop. NOCTURNAL being Sigler’s latest piece of fiction, displays many of the ways his writing has improved over the ensuing years. The pacing is much more steady and deliberate this time around. I wouldn’t jump to call this book a slow burner but much more time is spent getting the ducks in a row. The characters, by and large, are infinitely more likable and believable as well. And yet despite this progression NOCTURNAL still seems to be the lesser novel.
The characters may be more likable but they are still flat. Bryan (aka the Terminator) is dull during the first half of the book, exhibiting all the emotion of the killer robot he got his nickname from. During the second half of the book he compensates for his lack of depth by becoming extremely expressive and a bit hormonal. Robin the obligatory love interest is no better. She is an intelligent medical examiner for the police department but her whole existence seems to revolve around Bryan for no discernible reason. Ironically, though Bryan is the intended protagonist his partner Pookie is the one who comes off as the main character. Pookie is a decent individual, showing the most depth of any member of the cast even if his jokes are hit-or-miss.
The rest of the cast is passable for the most part. John Smith (aka Black Mr Burns) turned out to be my favorite character of all and I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Rex, at least at first. Then comes a character like Mr Biz-Nass the vocally challenged fortune-teller with Tourette’s. Yeah, if that seems to be reaching a bit for comedy that’s because it is. I get that with these dark and serious novels a little humor is necessary to break up the morbidity but there is a line between funny and ridiculous.
I will commend Sigler for not falling back on the typical urban fantasy monsters. Marie’s Children are definitely a unique creation, one that had promise. Unfortunately the gamble didn’t entirely pay off as the monsters range from genuinely creepy to outright silly. That’s really the largest problem NOCTURNAL faces, the constant tonal shift between horrifying and ludicrous. Early parts of the book, those that focus on the investigation, are dark and ominous but when the monsters finally reveal themselves they lose most of their potency. It’s like those old horror movies when people are dying for unknown reasons and then eventually the killer turns out to be this dude sweating profusely in a really cheaply made monster costume. The two tones just don’t reconcile.
NOCTURNAL isn’t entirely a bad novel, the police procedural and forensics portions work much better than the supernatural parts. The nature of the monsters was even scientifically plausible (for an urban fantasy novel anyway) until the halfway mark when Sigler decided to give up trying to explain these mutant creatures. Fans of Sigler’s work are bound to love this book as all the reviews until this point have been rave. I will go so far as to say that Sigler has come a long was as an author since INFECTED and I will continue to keep an eye out for his work.
- Recommended Age: 18+
- Language: No shortage here
- Violence: Plenty of blood and guts and carnage for all
- Sex: One very disturbing scene and lots of other disturbing mentions