April 27, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, )

nightlifeNightlife by Brian Hodge


A new drug has arrived in Florida from the deep jungles of South America, and Justin Gray, a convicted drug dealer and recovering user from St. Louis trying to make a new life for himself, is introduced to it by a local dealer. He witnesses its use in a nightclub, along with its animalistic, murderous aftereffects, and then finds himself engaged in a war with the dealer. Justin finds himself allied with a South American native and the woman with whom he is developing a relationship, along with the jungle magic that is the source of the drug’s effects….

I’m not much of a back-cover blurb writer, but that’s a decent summation of the story. Does it sound cutting-edge? New and original? Or anything else that Abyss was supposed to be in the 1990s? No? OK, good. That’s how I feel, too. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the premise, but for Abyss to follow up The Cipher, which was all those things, with this book just feels like a step backward.

Nightlife is another re-read for me, and I should note that I was a huge fan of Hodge’s after reading this book. Twenty years later, it’s still a solid read, but it’s not as good as I remember it. For one thing, Hodge uses a lot of sentence fragments in his narrative. He drops the subject of his sentences. Picking it up with the next sentence. Assuming the reader will carry the thread. To his credit, he usually makes it work, but it comes across as distracting to me. I can see a writer doing this kind of thing when the action kicks in and he’s trying to carry that frenetic pace through to the narrative, but Hodge does this a lot, even when he’s just describing a character walking into a room. It didn’t sit well with me.

The readability improves as the story progresses and the characters become clearer. The story is still pretty dated, though, with cordless phones being the newest technology. Hodge takes great pains to show his characters extending and compressing the antennas on these phones, as if it’s the most important part of a scene. I can’t blame Hodge for not including cell phones, but the rest of the story stands somewhat timelessly, so it’s jarring to run across something as antiquated as a land line.

Plus, this is a very male book. The central characters in the fight are Justin, the drug dealer, and the South American, all of whom are testosterone-laden men. They’re different in their own ways (Justin is sensitive, the drug dealer is Scarface, and the South American is a noble warrior), but they’re the focus of the battle. Angel, Justin’s love interest, plays a role, but she’s less central. It doesn’t help that a major conflict for Justin to overcome is Angel’s role in a porn film she made before they even met, or that Angel feels guilt toward Justin over it and worries that he’ll leave her over it. Hodge gives her reasons for all this, but it just feels out of place from 2018, where society is (mostly) progressive enough for this to be his problem, not hers.

Still, the story is solid, the characters are engaging, and the plot is compelling. It’s just surprising to find that a book published in 1991 has to be viewed as a product of its time the same way a book published in the 1950s should be. It has been over twenty years, but there’s still a part of me that feels like the 19-year-old reading this for the first time, and it doesn’t feel like so much has changed in that time. Maybe that’s just me complaining about getting old, though.

Started: February 13, 2018
Finished: February 25, 2018

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