Night Call: A Walking Shadows Novel (2020) – Brenden Carlson

Brenden Carlson’s Night Call, available from Dundurn Press is set in the past, an alternate 1933, and yet in describing it, I lean towards the phrase retro-future noir.

We are introduced to the cynical hard-boiled detective, Elias Roche, who is haunted by an incident in his past and walks a fine line between the law and the criminal underworld. His latest case is a doozy, it seems some dirty cops have been killed and Roche finds himself right in the middle of the investigation, which sees him paired up with a new partner, and a trail of clues that could be setting someone up for a massive criminal undertaking.

Sounds pretty straight forward?

Well, this alternate 1933 sees a United States that embraced the dreams and technology hinted at by Tesla. It has constructed a large upper city, for those who can afford it, that sits on a plate over New York (leaving it in shadow for twenty-two hours of the day), Roche’s new partner is a robot, and all evidence suggests that a rogue robot committed the murders.

Diving into the fast-paced tale, which is mainly told in the first person, the reader buckles up and holds on as they attempt to figure out this new art-deco reality. Reading the novel, my brain tied in three different films to help visualize and bring it to life, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and the defining future-noir, Blade Runner.

Carlson doesn’t bother to explain all of the tech, the rules, and the state of the world. Instead, he slowly world-builds and expects the reader to ascertain things from context and following the plot. The tropes and the characters are recognizable. They hint at their pulp history, but never quite fully embrace their lurid origins, playing out as a fun tale that plays with violence, cool tech, villainous corporations, and a detective with one too many masters.

We learn about Roche’s backstory, the events of the Great War, and though we don’t quite learn how and when things started to change from the history we know, it’s very easy to imagine the images Carlson creates.

It’s a fascinating reality, and the glimpses of the world Carlson gives us through Roche makes for an intriguing tale, delivering a new spin on familiar territory. There’s plenty to explore, and you just know that at some point in the blossoming series, collectively known as the Walking Shadows, there is going to be a femme fatale or two.

Carlson intentionally plunges us headfirst into this alternate reality letting the reader sink or swim as they navigate the dark streets of New York as people good and bad try to survive under the darkness of the Plate, the upper city, and those who ignore their plight.

But Roche is always ready to deliver justice, in and outside of the law, with his robot partner, at his side.

Check out Night Call from Dundurn Press today.

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