Noir and horror combine in a dreamlike tale of creeping dread
Standard plea: This review is on Goodreads and Amazon too; if you like it please do the same as it really helps authors.
What is The Long Nights? Is it an urban fantasy? A detective noir? A horror? A psychological thriller? All of the above? None of the above? I’ve read it, and I’m still not sure. But I’m pleased to report that it doesn’t really matter, because this is a very good book, and in some key ways it is a stunningly good book.
Just as the genre is impossible to pin down, the plot is pleasingly misleading, too. In the city of Carthage, a serial killer called the Nightstalker has left a trail of victims behind. It turns out the night stalker is called Adrian, Adrian is a vampire, and he is now dead. A telepath named Joe, a private investigator who works for a team of similarly powered individuals, is tasked by the team leader with jumping into the dead vampire’s consciousness – preserved through an arcane ritual – in order to find his remaining victims before they return to their former homes to cause havoc as newly blooded vampires.
Now with a basic plot like that you would probably expect lashings of vampire horror. A city-crossing action race against time. A sprawling urban fantasy style plot involving multiple denizens of this twilight city. Wrong! What we get is a slow-burn creepy noir-fest, as Joe slowly investigates each victims while hovering in and out of the vampire’s consciousness and memories, as well those of others he runs into, all the while trying to hold onto his own crumbling mental and physical state, not helped by his attempts to get over the loss of the woman he loves.
But although this runs very much against initial expectations, I’m here to tell you that I wouldn’t have it any other way. it’s brilliant and it’s dark and it’s poetic and it’s addictive, and boy, is some of the writing here simply astonishing for a debut. This is where the noir comes in strong. Anyone can do noir – the quick snappy comeback, the obvious tropes – but very few get the spirit of it; that sarcastic but poignant poetry that Chandler trademarked. But Tom gets it. Some of these lines are treasures; more art than simple genre.
This is a book that is defined by its mood more than its plot. Everything is dark; the book is well named as we seem to spend most of it with the dawn a distant memory. There are strong Sin City vibes here; a city perpetually in evening, with classy joints lying right alongside the seedy side. There is a also a glorious sense of unease here; a sense that something is not right – horror films fans will feel the same lingering and growing feeling of something bad coming that cult British horror Kill List provided – and by the end it’s like wading through a dark, strange dream. There are some great chilling horror moments, but this is more about unease rather than outright horror. And though it’s not heavy on the plot, when the reveal does come, it’s a thing of chilling beauty that draws together all the threads together in a very satisfying fashion.
As for the fantasy elements? In terms of city building, Carthage is drawn pretty light. The other members of Joe’s group, such as a magically healing medic and a woman called Janice who you don’t want to mess with, are introduced, and you get snippets of something behind them all called the Authority, as well as a fleeting but intriguing reference to a Lovecraftian cult backstory. But these are fleeting titbits, sprinkled in so lightly you might miss them. I didn’t see this as much of a problem though as this is not attempting to be an outright urban fantasy and the lack of information added to the dreamlike, uneasy feel, though I’d love to find out more about this world if Mock decides to return to it. The real fantasy elements lie in the exploration of the vampire’s consciousness via a gloriously creepy library - a brilliant section which combines Inception with Ray Bradbury - as well as the time Joe spends in his own mind in some scenes of nightmarish compulsion.
Overall, this is a novel drenched in atmosphere and an invitation to get swamped into the dark; a delightful slice of noir by someone born to write it, with a dark vein of horror running through it. I fell headfirst into this moody read in a way I rarely do. It’s an astonishing debut, a symphony of poetry and dread and long noirish nights. I may have had trouble describing it, but trust me, this one needs to be read. Just don’t try and pigeonhole it afterwards.