The Unnatural Inquirer

So I think I’ve gone and kick started myself back to reading. I started and finished Simon R. Green’s The Unnatural Inquirer yesterday afternoon. 🙂

So The Unnatural Inquirer starts off with John wrapping up a case at the HP Lovecraft Memorial Library (hee) and running into two very dangerous people outside, Walker and Suzie Shooter. Now John doesn’t mind seeing Suzie since they’re an item and are, in fact, living together. But it is never a good thing when Walker shows up and now is no exception.

Walker has hired Suzie to track down one of the Nightside’s Major Players, Max Maxwell the Voodoo Apostate. “The man so big they named him twice”.  Suzie, being a bounty hunter, is quite good at finding people. But Max has dug a hole and pulled it in after him. So Walker needs John to find him because Max was dumb and unleashed a bunch of loa (voodoo gods/beings) using something called the Aquarius Key (as in the song. It was the 60s).

They start at Max’s office and John uses his gift to show what Max was doing last, then following the ‘ghost’ Max out into the Nightside and all the way to one of the Nightside’s Bad Places. Even in a place like the Nightside, there are Bad Places. The Fun Faire is one of them. Someone had decided that an amusement park was just the thing that the people needed and of course it went horribly, horribly wrong. They’ve tried to exorcise the place fourteen times to no avail but that means that only the stupid or desperate would willingly go there. Like Max.

John and Suzie corner Max only he wasn’t as stupid as they thought. Okay, he was but he had a plan that required him entering the Fun Faire. You see, all the really bad juju that was in the Faire soaked into the Aquarius Key, supercharging it. Max wants to transport himself to the land of the loa, use the key to take over and transform himself into a god. Except the loa are pissed with a capital P and are hunting him down, first in the bodies of some of the Nightside’s best bounty hunters (not Suzie though. They wouldn’t dare) and then by the decaying bits of Fun Faire like the dodge ’em cars and carousel ponies.

And through this, Max still tries to get away from John and Suzie. First Suzie blows his hand off so they can get the Key and shut everything down and then she blows his kneecap off because he threatened her and John. Finally John, with a bit of surprise help from Walker, get the loa back where they belong with the promise of severe punishment for Max. He’s being sent to Shadow Deep, the Nightside’s own and terrible prison (cross Azkaban with no dementors with the Cask of Amantillado).

After that, Suzie goes to collect her bounty and John gets a new job with the Nightside’s very own gossip rag The Unnatural Inquirer. They print everything whether its true or not and the nastier the better. They keep the whole company in a pocket dimension so their many and varied enemies can’t destroy them (because that has been tried). John gets picked up by some time reporter Harry Fabulous (remember him?) and transported right into the lobby, where he’s forced to wait for the assistant editor Scoop Malloy (its not what you think. He used to work with animals).

And what problem could the foremost gossip paper possibly need John Taylor for? Well, they have purchased what might possibly be a recording of the Afterlife, made by a mousy little man named Pen Donovan. Only before they could get their hands on it, Donovan and his recording went missing. So John is to find him. The catch is that he must bring along demon (literally) girl reporter Bettie Divine. Bettie is half-succubus and half Rolling Stone (which one is never specified). John balks at this but they offer him a staggeringly good fee.

They stop by the Hawk’s Wind Bar & Grill (and can I just say how cool it would be to go there?) and talk about what Bettie knows about Donovan and who might be behind the disappearance. In the end, its much speculation and little facts so they go to Pen Donovan’s flat which is fairly nondescript. He was one of many timeslip junk dealers and he wasn’t doing well by the looks of things. His television was done up with unusual tech, which makes both John and Bettie think that maybe, just maybe, he did record something after all.

With no signs of Donovan and no real clues, they head to the Street of the Gods to see if anyone there knows what’s going on. No one does though they do start thinking that marketing CDs is a damn fine idea for raising money. John starts a minor god war and they leave posthaste, discussing how real they think this recording is. John decides that he’s going to need a word with Walker and heads them both to the Londinium Club.

The last Doorman died in the the Lilith War but they have a new one, decked out in full Victorian chic. John tries getting around him the easy way but its no go and so he has to stare the poor man down. Finally they get a word with Walker and John asks where he can find the Collector. Surely the Collector will either have the the recording or know where it is. Walker tells them that the last he knew, the Collector was in the Museum of Unnatural History. In the Tyrannosaur exhibit. The living Tyrannosaur exhibit. 😀

Well, the Collector turns out to be a bust though John and Bettie to get to outfox a Tyrannosaur. The next stop is the Cardinal, a defrocked priest who is like the Collector for religious/historic items. He doesn’t have it and he’s not sure if he wants it. Being a former priest, he doesn’t want to know for certain if heaven exists. John mentions that the thought he had of the Removal Man being out for it and the Cardinal freaks.

The Removal Man is a Nightside boogie man of sorts. No one’s ever seen him but the story is, if someone offends his sense of morality (which isn’t hard in the Nightside), he disappears them. They cease to exist. John and Bettie find themselves unceremoniously kicked out of the Cardinal’s place…and the man is immediately attacked. They break back in but he is gone and there is no sign of anyone else there.

In the middle of all this (like my segue?), there are three people who are vying for the spot of the recently deceased Authorities: General Condor (from a future timeline), Uptown Taffy Lewis (major real estate man, very obese and so far from nice he can’t even spell it), and Queen Helena (another future timeline person who claimed to be Queen of the earth after the sun starts dying). They all want John to back them, which he doesn’t do and doesn’t want to do. Eventually, he starts a major street fight between the lot and lets Walker sort it out.

At a dead end, John is warning Bettie this could be quite a long case when old friend Alex Morrisey calls up in a state. Well…when is Alex not in a state? Anyway, it seems like Mr. Pen Donovan has showed up in Strangefellows and driven off the usual clients. John uses his membership card to transport them right there (because Alex is really cranky).  Donovan looks quite the worse for wear and is being a bit paranoid (which is healthy in the Nightside really), for good reason. Kid Cthulu sends a bunch of thugs in the bar after him. John, Alex and the bouncer sisters the Coltranes kick the crap out of them and then John calms Donovan down and takes the DVD of the Afterlife Recording from him.

Alex hesitantly agrees to let John view the recording and leads him upstairs to his flat above the bar. And John is stunned at the state of it. It’s clean! Alex’s pornographic porcelain figurines are gone. He has matching furniture! Turns out, Alex is dating someone. Well, living with someone really. And who is that? To John’s enormous shock, its his secretary (and daughter in every way that matters), Cathy Barrett. He disapproves at first (Cathy is nineteen and Alex is about John’s age) but then admits that Cathy is an adult and can take care of herself.

Determined to talk about that later with Alex, John and Bettie finally get down to watching the Afterlife Recording when John notices something. Every face on the recording is that of Pen Donovan. Every tortured soul, every demon, is Donovan. So clearly this is not the real deal but a case of psychic imprinting (discussed earlier in the book). But why would a mild little man like Pen Donovan believe himself to be hellbound?

John heads back downstairs and asks Donovan just that. Turns out that he put down his dog for a woman, who left him eventually anyway. The dog was perfectly healthy and his only real friend. He feels guilty about that, terribly guilty. Wondering why all this was coming up now since it apparently happened some time ago, John discovers that Pen Donovan is inhabited by some sort of parasite that feeds off his guilt and fear. And he’s pretty much dead. So John finds the one thing that will ease Donovan’s guilt and pain. His dog, Prince. He opens a door to the afterlife (or makes it appear he does) and the dog comes back, assures Donovan that he doesn’t hold him responsible (yes, a talking dog. Live with it) and takes him back to heaven with him. John then squishes the ever living fuck out of the parasite because there are some things he just does not put up with.

Thinking that he’s all set and can finally get the damn DVD to the Unnnatural Inquirer, John finds himself sidetracked by Kid Cthulu. He and Bettie end up in Uptown with Kid Cthulu, surprise-surprise, tries to kill them. John gets there first only to find himself face to face with the Removal Man. Sometimes it just does not pay to get out of bed. After dealing with him and the man behind his power (the editor of the Unnatural Inquirer), John finally gets around to returning the Aquarius Key to Walker outside the Londinium Club (it has new decorations, the heads of Helena, Condor and Uptown Taffy Lewis). He turns the DVD over to Bettie and the Unnatural Inquirer and all is good. For now.

This book was great because it was a fairly lighthearted book for the Nightside arc. It was more comedic than the last few and gave us a good break from the doom and gloom of the Lilith war. I highly recommend this book. Rating: A+.

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