Review by C.J. Bunce
One of the greatest living writers is back with something different. Although his horror prowess shines through, Kim Newman (interviewed here) has penned a story that would make anyone think he has spent his career writing noir stories. His new novel Something More Than Night takes its title from a line from a Raymond Chandler novel (Trouble is My Business). It’s a story that takes real-life commonalities of the 1930s lives of Chandler and monster movie actor Boris Karloff and weaves them into a moody mystery far better than anything Chandler ever wrote. Newman, master of horror as evidenced in his Anno Dracula books and stories, delivers a worthy sequel of sorts to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, featuring dazzling, powerful writing that is not only the best of its genre, its as masterfully penned a novel as in any genre. Newman’s literary works have been studied in colleges since the 1990s, and this mash-up illustrates why–it’s a showcase of his knowledge of history, Hollywood, and writing styles that will leave you wanting even more.
Readers will find a plot derived from a mix of Shelley’s Frankenstein and H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, of mad scientist schemes that fuse the creator of the machine in the 1931 Frankenstein movie with a modern experimental horror like Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man, Joel Schumacher’s Flatliners, and Michael Crichton’s Coma, only with the ghoulishness only Newman can conjure. You may not be aware that Raymond T. Chandler (“R.T.”) and Boris Karloff–then using his birth name William Pratt (“Billy”)–attended the same college in England. Newman envisions these boys befriending each other and becoming best friends through their lives in Los Angeles through the height of their careers. Just as Chandler is about to attain legendary fame from his new book The Big Sleep, and as Karloff hits a reprieve from his famed monster roles because of a Hollywood ban on monster movies, a common friend–a detective–turns up dead.
Through a few, carefully orchestrated perspective shifts a la Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, we learn about the detective, Joh Devlin, based on a real-life detective that inspired Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, and his efforts to find what happened to a missing woman with R.T. and Billy as part of his investigation of the Home House mystery–Home being Ward Home, Jr., head of a motion picture studio. Newman tells the through-line of the story in the dynamic, writerly, witty voice of Chandler, who is intentionally not quite as sharp and savvy as his Marlowe. As Chandler and Karloff–two former British boys–team-up to find out what happened to Joh, Joh recounts a case of Home, Jr. (“Junior”), affiliated with a strange hospital in a coma after running out of the hospital with his head on fire leaving, dead bodies in his wake.
It’s really a classic Sherlock and Watson duo set-up, yet Newman makes the exquisite decision to have Karloff be the smarter of the two, and Chandler to document their exploits Watson style–sure, he’s the writer, yet most readers will not be aware of the intellect of real-life Billy Pratt aka Boris Karloff via Newman’s vision. Chandler himself is impressed at Karloff’s one upsmanship in his deductions through what is a fairly complicated case.
Something More Than Night is a follow-on of sorts to another Hollywood “what if?” story, Tarantino’s Hollywood fairy tale Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which similarly retells real-life L.A. events through a twisted, fictional eye, this time the real-life discovery of a drowned child in Karloff’s swimming pool. Newman’s descriptions of Hollywood are so vivid and his dialogue so rich that you’d take him for some kind of time traveler. It seems impossible the person who wrote the story sections from Chandler’s straightforward British angle could have also written the dark alley-side, gumshoe angle of Joh Devlin. Both are brilliant and so, so different.
The scope of the partial bibliography in the afterword will knock your socks off. Great writing is the result of understanding of the subject matter, and that means research. Newman shows how it’s done.
Something More Than Night is as good a science fiction, fantasy, horror, noir crime tale as anything you’ve ever read, by a writer of three decades of innovative stories at the top of his game. I was surprised this wasn’t another Hard Case Crime noir entry. Don’t miss Kim Newman’s Something More Than Night, already easily one of the year’s best novels, available now here at Amazon from Titan Books.