Review

Nocturnal

by Scott Sigler

Scott Sigler is one brilliant guy. He turned a writing career setback into motivation for innovation and began narrating his novels and short stories as podcasts, becoming the first author, as far as I am able to determine, to do so. On top of that, he is an amazing storyteller. He has since traditionally published two ground- and rule-breaking books, INFECTED and CONTAGIOUS, of a projected trilogy; a stand-alone novel titled ANCESTOR; a series involving something called the Galactic Football League (don’t take my word for it; just read it); and a short story collection. Which brings us to NOCTURNAL, his latest traditionally published work. You are going to love this one. 

"Believe me when I tell you that NOCTURNAL will make the end-of-year favorite lists for mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, horror, and yes, just plain old fiction, period.... [I]f you are a fan of genre fiction, you have to read NOCTURNAL. You’ll never forget it."

The book begins as a police procedural, then slowly morphs into a horror novel,  biotech thriller, and science fiction with a just a touch of alternative history thrown in. Parts of it evoke everything from the Nicole Brown Simpson/Ron Goldman murders to the SAW film franchise. But at the end of the day (or late at night, depending on when you finish this mesmerizing, addictive reading experience), this will be the novel to which you will compare all others in those genres.

NOCTURNAL is a sprawling, addictive work of fiction with a bunch of characters, primary and secondary, who consume you during and beyond your reading experience. There are two, though, who shoulder their way to the front of your attention. One is Bryan Clauser, a San Francisco homicide detective who thinks he is losing his mind. He is having nightmares in which people are horribly murdered, and he is a part of it. The problem is that in the real and waking world, similar murders are occurring, in a place and manner identical to Clauser’s dreams. Clauser and Pookie Chang, his SFPD partner, are warned off the investigation into the murders, even though logic and department practice would dictate that they be the assigned officers. Naturally, that makes the investigation all the more attractive to them. Chang is particularly concerned, given that his partner knows way too much about the murders for comfort. 

The victims are connected, by something other than Clauser’s nightmares, which brings us to the second primary character in NOCTURNAL. Rex Deprovdechuk is a teenager who appears to have been born with a sign on his back that not only says “Kick Me” but also “Stomp Me, Abuse Me, Hit Me, Make Me Write Bad Checks.” A student at San Francisco’s Galileo High School (which, interestingly enough, O.J. Simpson attended), Rex is bullied to, from, and at school and church, and abused at home by the mother from hell. Is it a coincidence, then, that all of the murder victims who are the subject of Clauser’s nightmares are Rex’s tormentors? Not hardly; and what Clauser and Chang slowly discover and uncover is a decades-old conflict that has raged in San Francisco for well over a century, both on its most traveled streets and in sections of the city that few people have seen or even know exist. And, as Clauser eventually comes to realize, he may be the only person with the power to end the madness. But at what cost?

Sigler is a masterful conceptualist and a heck of a storyteller, combining sharp dialogue with terse but pitch-perfect descriptions and short chapters to keep things moving along at a fevered pace. He lives in San Francisco and appears to have walked every square inch of sidewalk in the city. NOCTURNAL serves in part as a travelogue, with Sigler carefully placing events here, there and everywhere through San Francisco’s neighborhoods, from the Tenderloin to Polk Gulch to Russian Hill and beyond. It took me three times as long to read the book as it ordinarily would have because I kept interrupting the reading experience by using Google Streetview to check out the place where a specific event was occurring. Maybe I’m easily amused, but actually seeing the locales --- more or less benign on Streetview, not so much in the novel --- made my hair stand on end.

And the nightmares I’ve had? Forget about it. They’re almost as bad as the ones that Clauser experiences. This might seem strange to you --- it does to me --- but that’s my test of a fantastic reading experience. Seriously, I may never be the same after reading the book. And if you are paranoid,  a germophobe, a bully, a victim (current or former) or a night owl, you will never be the same either (disclaimer: I am three of the above).

I could go on and on, but I would be giving away too much. Sigler obviously works hard on his craft, and I am not about to blow what looks like months of carefully plotted writing with a bunch of spoilers. Believe me when I tell you that NOCTURNAL will make the end-of-year favorite lists for mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, horror, and yes, just plain old fiction, period. Romance? No. But if you are a fan of genre fiction, you have to read NOCTURNAL. You’ll never forget it.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 27, 2012

Nocturnal
by Scott Sigler