In a gritty, tech-noir version of 1930s Manhattan, an ex-cop and his robot partner must stop a killer who’s sending the city into chaos.
December, 1933. The city that cannot sleep, where cartels and mobsters go bump in the night. Manhattan’s delicate peace is broken when four politicians in the pocket of America’s reigning megacorporation are murdered at the Edison Hotel, dispatched by an unknown assassin wielding a rare and unique weapon. The NYPD calls upon the only man for the job: Elias Roche, the Nightcaller.
With Upper City bigwigs in a panic and the shadowy Iron Hands poised to make a grab for the Lower City, Roche is having doubts about his role in the complex power structure as a former cop and current Mob enforcer. But he sets out to investigate, now under more scrutiny than ever before: a new radio show based on his escapades thrusts unwanted fame upon him, the FBI are breathing down his neck, and a relentless journalist is dogging his every move. Meanwhile, an awakening cynicism in his Automatic partner, Allen Erzly, is turning their already bleak world upside down. As the pressure mounts, it’s a race to find the killer before the eve of the New Year.
About the author
Brenden Carlson is a chemist and freelance writer. He is currently completing a master’s degree in organic chemistry at Brock University. He lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.
Excerpt: Midnight: The Walking Shadows (by (author) Brenden Carlson)
I woke up in a city that cannot sleep. On a Tuesday.
A Rotorbird screamed past my apartment, the noise rattling the walls and windows enough to shake me from my slumber. Sleeping was a commodity I enjoyed in short bursts, so taking every moment I could in my bed was a practice I had forced onto myself.
As I sat up, my body went about its automatic motions: grasp a cigarette and clench it in my lips. I looked at the lighter in my hands as I lit the dart. My last one broke, but thankfully my ‘employer’ had gotten me a new one, no charge. The embroidered eye on the base of the lighter looked right through me. I placed it faced-down on the table. I didn’t need to be creeped out more often than I already am.
Outside my bedroom window was The Plate, hanging low, the turbines open as snow drifted through, caressing the buildings and street in its frozen grasp. Traffic was congested all over, judging by the horns and sirens below, but otherwise it was a day like any other in the Lower City. I stood, put on some slacks, and walked to the bathroom to begin my ritual: shave as best I can, get water on my face, and then to the kitchen for coffee.
The calendar on the wall said December Sixth. Almost a month after the Cop Killer case. A month before my birthday. With the coffee done, I got the rest of my outfit on, along with my coat, and went downstairs to get some breakfast.
“Ah, detective!” Yuri said, getting a dog ready for me at his cart. “Another late night?”
“Night?” I looked at my watch to see that it was nine, post morn. Staying under The Plate crossed night and day too much. “Yeah, I run best at this time.”
“Ah, and you need fuel for adventures!” He handed me the dog, and I dropped him a tip in his cart.
“Do you have anywhere warm to go to, Yuri? I hope you’re not out here all night.”
“Net, I stay in lobby of building at nights. Security guard is nice, let me rest on couches, good people. Like you!”
“I’m not good people.” I chuckled. “You ever need a place to stay, let me know; I owe you that much.”
“You give me business, I owe you much more! Good evening, Mister Roche!”
A wave concluded our interactions, and I was soon in a black Packard, a rental from a friend of mine who was looking after my car. I didn’t want to be spotted driving a vehicle with a broken window and dozens of bullet holes in it; plus, I still needed to lay low after my last endeavour.
Turning onto the congested street, I spotted a mechanical figure clad in black, waiting outside a set of brick steps to one of the many small apartment blocks lining the street. I stopped in front of the figure, being lauded at by horns and screams behind me to ‘watch my driving’ as the metal man looked at me through my broken passenger-side window.
“Detective.” Allen said while climbing in.
“Constable.” I grinned saying that.
“What are our plans tonight?”
“Well, that is a good question … we don’t have many police calls, seeing as the 5th is experiencing an extended dry spell, and the mob has yet to cause a ruckus …”
“So, therefore, you will be free to partake in fulfilling a civilian Night Call?”
I groaned. Fuck. “Allen …”
“You screen them every night we’re together.”
“And you always hang up as soon as you recognize the voice as not belonging to either Sergeant Sinclair or Commissioner Robins.”
“And I believe you need to work on your people skills.”
I tried to keep my focus on traffic so I didn’t take that slight as an insult. “Is that a fact?”
“And it might help you pretend you’re making a difference in this city.”
“Allen I am making a difference in this city.” I snapped back. “Saving a fucking kitten out of a tree won’t save this city.”
“But it does instill hope.”
“People don’t need hope, people need a solution.”
Allen paused for a moment before retorting. “People need hope so that they can achieve the solution on their own. And they don’t feel hopeful when the only thing they get from your end of the phoneline is a dial tone.”
Dealing with this machine will be the end of me. How many nights have I paraded around with it, zooming to different bars in the guise of doing work? No doubt it caught on by now … which leaves me in a bind. What other work can I do that doesn’t relate to making bodies? The Eye has been uncharacteristically quiet recently. Then again, that might have to do with me not returning her calls …
“Fine.” Hearing me say this, Allen perked up, thinking it had broken through my tough exterior. “One.”
“One call, and then another if you’re feeling it.”
“One. Call. I choose which.”
Allen looked at me doubtfully. “I hope this isn’t an excuse for you to screen calls and run the clock out.”
Smart bastard. Too smart for its own good. That’ll get it killed one day. Or me. Or both of us.
Carlson wonderfully creates a world that is instantly recognizable but is still populated with a new landscape filled with people we recognize and understand. This writer is definitely one to watch.
Globe and Mail, for Night Call
Brenden Carlson's noir masterwork, Midnight, brings Depression-era New York City to life in this brilliant follow-up to Night Call. With future tech. And robots. I like noir. And robots.
David Clink, Aurora Award-winning author and co-host of the Two Old Farts Talk Sci-Fi podcast
Carlson does a good job populating his gritty, split-level world with dodgy mobsters, deadly dames, and killer machines
Publishers Weekly, for Night Call