Midnight: A Walking Shadows Novel (2021) – Brenden Carlson

Dundurn Press delivers more pulp retro-future noir with Brenden Carlson’s second novel in his Walking Shadows series, Midnight. Following up on Night Call, the narrative picks up a short time after, as we join Elias Roche, detective, hit-man. A man who walks a very narrow line of justice, balancing his work with the 5th Precinct and the Iron Hands, a powerful criminal organization that infests the lower city of New York, while the wealthy and the elite live above the city on a massive plate, ignoring the troubles of those less fortunate.

It’s the holiday season of 1933, and a series of strange murders of GE bigwigs from the plate causes Roche, and his automatic partner, Allen a lot of problems, as it hints that there is a brutal vigilante who is not Roche, out on the street delivering their own form of vengeance.

While the first novel did some world-building, it was more interested in telling its introductory story and hinting at the rest of the world Roche and Allen inhabit. This time, Carlson opens the sweep of the narrative a bit, introducing a diverse cast of characters, and just like I said would happen in my review of the first novel last week, we meet a femme fatale in the form of Simone a beguiling radio reporter.

She brings him news that he’s a big thing in the entertainment world with a radio show based on his and Allen’s exploits as the Nightcaller, and even the possibility of a leap to the burgeoning world of television.

Roche wrestles throughout the book with his nature and who he wants to be, and confrontations with mobsters, their automatics (robots), the terrifying head of the FBI who is committed to the corporations of America, specifically GE and not the people, put all of his decisions into stark contrast.

The book slides from first person to third depending on who the narrative follows, but it all flows smoothly and the vivid pictures Carlson paints with his story once again evokes those noir films of old tinged with a little bit of retro-future tech, which in my mind’s eye looks very art deco at the same time.

Carlson plays with the well-known noir tropes and gives them a bit of a spin while honouring them at the same time. His dingy, troubled New York, in perpetual shadow, is a fascinating and slightly scary creation. You wouldn’t want to walk these streets without a diamondback in your hand, and a trusty companion at your side.

Roche is a haunted character, like all the best noir creations, he’s haunted by his time in the Great War, the loss of his previous automatic partner, and the things he’s done. Throw in an awakening awareness in Allen, and both characters have their hands full in dealing with each other and trying to track down a killer while keeping the peace between criminal families, and the police who patrol the city.

Carlesen has created an engaging world that seems like a combination of Max Fleischer art deco designs set against a Blade Runner background. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does in the next book in the series, Dark All Day, which is slated for 2023.

Check out the first two novels in the series, Night Call and Midnight, available now from Dundurn Press!

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