The Bride Wore Black Leather starts off with John Taylor walking along Nightside’s streets on the way to his office, a place he rarely goes. At first I thought that Simon R. Green was taking his time because this is the reportedly the final NIGHTSIDE novel. As the chapter progressed, though, I realized that John Taylor the character was saying farewell, as he leaves behind one aspect of his life and moves into unfamiliar ones, first as Nightside’s new Walker, or agent of the shadowy Authorities who run the place, and secondly as a husband and father. Nightside, where it’s always three a.m., where dimensions, realities and timelines intersect and collide, where for a price you can have your heart’s desire or your worst nightmare and they are often the same thing, will never be the same for John after tonight.
Taylor asks his secretary Cathy for one last private detective case, something he can finish up before he fully assumes his duties as Walker. Cathy immediately sees through this and points out that most likely Taylor just needs to get out of the hair of his bride-to-be, Suzie, the most fearsome bounty hunter in Nightside. Suzie goes by Suzie Shooter, Shotgun Suzie, or sometimes, “Geez, it’s her! Run!” Taylor and Suzie are a perfect match; she is a professional killer and he is the man who will do the hard things. John and Suzie are poised on the brink of happiness. That sounds too good to be true, and it is.
The book’s pacing is a little strange. The first three chapters are basically a self-contained NIGHTSIDE novella. Taylor crashes the Ball of Forever, a party held annually by the Immortals. A murder takes place — coincidentally, the victim is one of the Authorities — and by the end of Chapter Three Taylor has solved it. Several of Taylor’s sidekicks and enemy/allies show up; Razor Eddie, the Punk God of the Knife; Dead Boy; and the Oblivion Brothers.
Chapter Four kicks off as John is pulled out of his own stag party by Julien Advent, the Great Victorian Adventurer, who ended up in Nightside as the result of falling into a timeslip, and stayed there and is now the editor of the local tabloid. Julien is also an Authority, and needs Taylor’s help to stop a man who calls himself the Sun King and is connected to the mysterious graffito, “Let the sunshine in,” that has been showing up around town. It’s always 3 a.m. in Nightside, and the sun does not shine. Clearly Advent knows more than he is saying, since he and the Sun King knew each other in San Francisco during the Summer of Love. After weeks of performing miracles in San Francisco in 1967, the Sun King entered a mysterious white tower and vanished. Now he is back, angry and appalled at the corruption of the flower-power dream, and augmented by beings he calls The Entities. He plans to put the world right, starting by bringing back the sun, turning Nightside into Sunnyside. Nightside may be our world’s Bad Part of Town, but it is also our last line of defense against other realities and dimensions who want to annex, or consume, Earth.
Taylor is determined to stop the Sun King, but soon a beloved Nightside resident is dead and the Sun King has framed Taylor for the death. He is on the run with every hand turned against him, even his fiancée’s:
“You’d better stay out of this, Suzie, I can handle it.”
“Of course you can. Where are you, John?”
It was the second time she’d asked, and something in her voice made the hackles rise up on the back of my neck. “Why do you want to know, Suzie?”
“Because the Authorities hired me to track you down,” said Shotgun Suzie. “My biggest bounty ever.”
“And you said yes?”
It’s a really big reward,” said Suzie. “Biggest I’ve ever been offered. And it is what I do best. It’s a matter of professional pride, John. I can’t let someone else get to you first.”
John Taylor pushes himself harder in this book than any previous book, doing physical and spiritual damage to himself in his quest to save Nightside and his own life. The book takes us on a tour of Nightside as John visits many familiar places. He tries to go to the HP Lovecraft Memorial Library….
…only to find it wasn’t there. It was only then that I remembered hearing that the Library had recently vanished and been replaced by a doppelganger from some alternate dimension. The Linda Lovelace Library of Spiritual Erotica. Takes all sorts…
He uses some magic that is new to us, like an incandescent salamander ball to disperse a shadowy demon that threatens him.
I have known people to get really snotty about salamander balls, saying they’re expensive, you don’t get much bang for your buck, and they’re a bit on the small side. But as I always point out, you only get two to a salamander.
Taylor’s choices get narrower and narrower until he confronts the Sun King in the last place he wants to go.
The Bride Wore Black Leather is about a hundred pages longer than the usual 200-page NIGHTSIDEbooks, but again, the first hundred pages are an independent story. I thought of it as a bonus: a novel and a novella in one package. Later in the book, I thought a couple of plot events, such as the events in Ward 12A in the Hospice, were disconnected from the original story — unless the Sun King caused the event, which it appears he did not. I have one other small complaint about this book, and that is that Green drags in too many references to another series of his, THE SECRET HISTORY. This felt a bit self-serving, but it probably annoyed me because I am invested in Taylor and Suzie. Even with these nagging disappointments, the book gets three-and-a-half stars for staying true to the premise of NIGHTSIDE right to the end.
The Bride Wore Black Leather has everything I expect from a NIGHTSIDE book. Taylor is the Sam Spade for the twenty-first century, willing to stare down an angel, a demon or a god. Nightside has the meanest of the mean streets, and John Taylor is right at home there. Sunnyside? Not bloody likely.