Nocturnal: A Novel
Hardcover, 576 pages, $26.00
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
Murderous mutants abound in Nocturnal. Scott Sigler’s novel features a subculture comprised of nasty abnormal beings. The revolting, in multiple meanings of the word, entities reside in tunnels beneath San Francisco. Aberrant behavior and odd chromosomes often go hand-in-paw, and the mantra “Magneto (or his spiritual doppelganger) Made Me Do It,” seems a perfect T-shirt logo for the strangely endowed who have grievances. They are indeed fired up down below the city streets, and there’s hell to pay. Filled with energetic dialogue, vivid fight sequences, and characters possessing depth, Nocturnal is a cut above the standard misanthropic monsters yarns. The length of the tome denotes an aspiration to saga status. And Sigler mostly succeeds in sustaining a tautness of tale throughout the many pages. In the extended scenes set in the tunnel domain, the novel reads rather like Gulliver’s Travels on acid. Depending on the tastes of the reader, this may be taken as a positive. The book fares best when the action takes place above ground. There, those who populate the narrative better display the motivations behind their conduct.
Homicide detectives Bryan Clauser and Pookie Chang are on the trail of a serial killer. Clauser is known as “The Terminator” by his co-workers on the force. As the nickname would indicate, he can kill with great efficiency and detachment. After exposure to a particularly gruesome crime scene, however, his personality shifts. He starts having prophetic nightmares and his physical health deteriorates. His professional partnership with the hip and droll Mr. Chang gets shaky, but the bonds of their friendship remain strong.
As the pair’s investigation leads to astounding discoveries, it becomes evident that there is a major cover-up occurring within the department and up to city hall. Clauser, Chang, and some cohorts (including Clauser’s beautiful ex-lover who works in the Medical Examiner’s office) are left to their own devices in solving the mystery. A cult that dates back to the gold-rush era is at the heart of the conspiracy, and Bryan Clauser has a hidden connection to it.
The story that initially runs parallel to Bryan’s focuses on a bullied youth, who is also plagued by dark dreams. The dreams, however, are a turn-on for him; in them he obtains retribution against his abusers. And the revenge gets even sweeter when he realizes that he has a propensity for making violence happen. His evil destiny is linked with the police detective’s. The aligned stories cross with a vengeance.
Nocturnal has a high body count, and the mayhem and slaughter are described in detail. There are some surprising casualties, and unsparing depictions of mutilations. One of the most repugnant passages though, concerns copulation with a loathsome creature known as “Mommy.” This gal makes Jabba the Hutt look like George Clooney.
On the flip side of kooky characters, there is the aforementioned and eccentrically endearing Pookie. Another highly memorable character is a fortune teller who requires a voice box to communicate – and suffers from Tourette’s syndrome. Simultaneously strange and hilarious, the exchanges between him and Clauser and Chang are absurd and grand.
Scott Sigler appears to have had a great time writing his big byzantine and bizarre opus. Nocturnal is a nocturne that provides fine music of the night.