Book Review – Night Shadow by B.K. Bass

2019 was the last time the world was normal. Our president was loud-mouthed idiot, but we’d learned to make fun of him, everyone was still working in offices, and we didn’t have to wear masks everywhere or listen to mouth-breathers explain how vaccines turned us into mindless robots with 5g connectivity. Covid was lurking, but it was still in the shadows, and we all had heady expectations of 2020 being a great year instead of the massive cluster-fuck it turned out to be.

2019 was also the year I got to read B.K. Bass’s first entry in his Night Trilogy – Night Shift. It was a novella focused on taking a traditional hard-boiled detective and dropping him into a cyberpunk reality with all the fun gritty nastiness one would expect from such a mashup. Early 2020 saw the release of part two – Night Life – where the antes were upped and nastiness got, uh, nastinesser. Nastierness. Let’s just call it a good time in a city that likes to eat people.

Now 2021 is grinding to a halt and sharpening its claws for one last dig into our throats, but at least we’ve got the conclusion of Bass’s trilogy – Night Shadow.

Night Shadow finishes the adventures of Harold Jacobson, now on the run and hiding out while he plots his revenge. The world has other plans for him, though, and Harold finds himself stuck in the middle of fiery revolution that will leave the city quietly sobbing to itself in the corner. Being the badass that he is, ol’ Harold will find a way to use the revolt to his own gains.

While the first two books in the series focused on corruption growing like a cancer in the shadows, Night Shadow lets the cancer loose on an unsuspecting city. My guess would be Night Shadow was heavily influenced by the events of summer 2020 (see, there was a reason I was talking about last year). 2020 was the year the United States exploded. Too much pressure, too much uncertainty, and way too much fear and loathing. Bass manages to capture that powder keg atmosphere in Night Shadow and isn’t afraid to let it loose.

It could be argued that there’s a certain meta-ness to the story. A hint that while the revolution is of the people and for the people, there are plenty of folks out there who, for better or worse, have no qualms about using the chaos to their ends. The final entry in the Night trilogy is bigger and badder than the first two and takes us in an unexpected direction. It still feels like part of the trilogy, though, and that’s no mean feat to pull off.

Taken as a collection, it could be argued that there was a certain prescience in the trilogy. All the corruption and violence of the first two books only served to increase the pressure until an explosion was inevitable. The ethical quandaries of exploiting the explosion aside, the only question left to ask is whether Harold did the right thing for all the wrong reasons or the wrong thing for all the right reasons.

And questions like that are what cyberpunk/detective-noir mashups are all about.

New Angeles is in turmoil.

The government, the corporations, and the organized crime families have the city in an iron grip. As that grip tightens, the people decide they will not take it anymore. When the citizens rise up and the city burns, Harold sees an opportunity to exploit the chaos.

But is his crusade one of justice, or vengeance?

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Book Review – Night Life by B.K. Bass

Serial literature is gaining a resurgence in popularity thanks to ebook publishing. Way back in the murky mists of time, novellas were very much a thing because they were cheap to print and people could consume them during lunches and other off hours. Tastes changed over time and novellas fell out of fashion in favor of massive tomes of fiction that could break your toe if they fell on it. And that was for the paperbacks.

Anyway, novellas and serial literature take a certain kind of author to pull off. You have to come up with a story that’s not novel length and can’t be wrapped up in a short story. Duh, right? It’s a little trickier than it seems. If a story is too simple – think a tightly packed short story – there is no way to extend it to novel length without it being obvious that some filler got tossed in. The original Star Trek movie (yeah, the one from ’79) was like that. It had enough story for a television episode because that’s what it was supposed to be. Everything else was filler. Conversely, the recent Dark Tower movie was abysmal because it condensed 4,316 pages into 95 minutes. Not even the magic of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey could save that one.

So there’s a fine line to tread. Not too short. Not too long.

Back in December, B.K. Bass threaded the needle with Night Shift, a taut, tense cyberpunk-detective-noir crossover. As with its predecessor, the newest edition in Bass’s Night Trilogy, Night Life, maintains that same taut, uh, tenseness. Is that a word? If it wasn’t, it is now. Both books read like classic detective novellas with bad guys and anti-heroes and basically no one to trust. Bass does an admirable job of building a world that no one in their right mind would want to live in and then dropping his characters into it. His characters are natural products of the gritty, rain-soaked, neon-drenched, flashing, filthy city. They feel like they belong there. Like no matter how many times you take the fire hose to them, the stench of life will cling to them like that a needy girlfriend.

Also, as with Night Shift, Night Life carefully treads the rails of technology. In Cyberpunk, as with Sci-Fi, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of over-describing the tech and letting it be the star of the show. I like my laptop, but I don’t want to read a book about it. Bass keeps the narrative centered. He allows the technology to exist and to be a force lurking in the background, but it never takes center stage. The center of Bass’s stage is reserved for corrupt politicians, mobsters, and all the delightfully seedy things they do.

If you like your Cyberpunk more punk than cyber, check out Bass’s Night Trilogy.

Night Life will be available for purchase on August 11, 2020 from all the usual places, although that date may get pushed forward. If the release date changes, I’ll update this page. You can find links to Amazon, Kobo, and B&N on his website.

Framed for murder, detective Harold Jacobson must delve into the gritty underbelly of the city if he wants to clear his name. To solve the crime pinned on him, he must first solve the murder of a local woman. From the steel towers of downtown to seedy nightclubs and decrepit slums, Harold delves into the night life of the city to pull the threads of the mystery together and becomes part of the criminal element he once hunted down. Going off the grid in New Angeles can be deadly, but he’s out of options and out of patience.

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Book Review – Night Shift by B.K. Bass

A little-known fact about me: I have a minor in Theatre. That’s with the re not the er because theater is different from Theatre. One’s a place, the other’s a much larger things. Among other classes I took, one was set design. Our teacher once sat everyone down and said, “Look, there’s a lot more to good set design than just following the play directly. If you want to set ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in the tropics and have palm trees on stage and make Theseus a ganja-smoking Jamaican gangster, you can do that. Just don’t let the scenery upstage the story.”

Bottom line, a good story is a good story no matter where it’s set.

Take, for instance, B.K. Bass’s take on detective noir that he’s dropped into a cyberpunk-ish setting. Traditional hard-boiled detective stories were a thing back in the day and they wove tales about vicious crimes and the die-hard detectives that set out to solve them. Those tales are still being told today – look at stories like L.A. Confidential. It’s a genre that seems simple to do from the outside. Bad guy does bad things. Good guy sets out to stop them. Simple, really. But to do it well takes a deft hand and an ability to drop oneself into that world to write it well. It’s not a genre for pulling punches or writing feel-good tales. Bad things are happening and they need to be treated with the shot of whisky and punch in the gut they deserve.

It’s also a genre that opens itself nicely to fit into whatever world we decide to drop them into. Because, if there’s one thing humans are really good at, it’s being bastards to each other. It doesn’t matter the time or the place, you can rest assured someone is out there right now pulling the ultimate dick move on someone else.

And that’s why Night Shift made for a fun read. Bass has pulled the hard-boiled detective out of the past and present and dropped him head-first into an ugly future where the country has fallen apart. But for all the technology floating around in the story, human nature is still human nature and there are still bad people doing terrible things. It’s just the way the world works. There are still jerks, they just have better computers. And cyber-hookers.

While Bass may not have given us a ganja-smoking Jamaican gangster, he’s done something similar; he’s taken a good story and changed the set pieces. And, like any good set designer, he’s done so without falling into the trap of letting the setting drive the story. Night Shift lives and breathes in its setting without the setting becoming a major character.

If you like hard-boiled detective stories – and who doesn’t – and also like your sci-fi served up with heaping helping people still being jerks to each other, check out Night Shift. It’s a good read. My only gripe was the book is only part one of a three-part story. That means I need to wait to see how the whole thing is going to play out.

In New Angeles, crime is part of the daily business of running the city. But when a routine murder investigation starts turning up more questions than answers, homicide detective Harold Peterson finds himself unraveling a decades-old conspiracy that leads him to the highest echelons of the mob and the city government. As various threads start to come together, the big picture is revealed to be more than he ever bargained for. As bullets start to fly from both directions, the only thing Harold knows for sure is that he isn’t being paid enough to deal with this.

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My Write Me A Story

Since a couple others have written stories (look for the reblogged posts), it’s probably time I got mine going. Don’t expect perfection, this only had a quick edit, but it should be entertaining. In case you’re just dropping by and happen to see this, this story (and the others) are from a little writing exercise I started this weekend. Feel free to add your own. Just let me know and I’ll reblog it.


They call this place Neon City.

It’s a slick sounding name for a derelict part of town. The bright lights obscure the dark heart and the constant rain can’t wash away the deep taint of sin. If you believe in sin this is the place to come. Indulgence is this burg’s middle name.

They also say Neon City never sleeps. I disagree. I say Neon City never wakes up. It’s forever lost in a halcyon dream of long-forgotten elegance. It dreams of its own heightened importance and the half-hearted excuses we all tell ourselves when we wake up in the morning and see drooping mugs staring back from mirrors. The rotgut was flowing, the dames were willing, that little guy was laughing, and the goat didn’t seem any the worse for wear.

No harm, no foul. Right?

In the warm light of the sun our sins feel real and tangible. They’re painful, hateful things to contemplate. Then the sun goes down and the real lights shine. The blues and greens and purples make our lives seem exciting and purposeful; they hide the blemishes.

I left here after a … misunderstanding. It seems the local powers that be didn’t appreciate me sticking my nose in places that stunk to high heaven of graft and deep perversion. What can I say? I’m curious. It makes me good at what I do.

Most folks around here call this road Lover’s Lane. There’s not a lot of romance on this road but the sneaky euphemism makes the working girls turning tricks in the alleys seem almost wholesome. People from the outside call it Hell’s Highway.

I call those people boring.

I’ve got a date waiting for me just down this road. You can beat my ass down in the street and I’ll let it ride. Sometimes getting your gums massaged with a tire iron is the price for getting the story. Burn my apartment, kill my dog, torch my car? Fine. Shit happens. When the headlines roll off the presses I’m the last one laughing.

But you whack the dame I’m dizzy with and I’m gonna burn powder.

There’s a lump of steel in my pocket. I’ve got all the evidence I need. There won’t be a story written about this one, though. No headlines. No prizes. My final misdeed will miss the news rags entirely and go quietly into the dark night. I’m fine with that; I’ve got nothing left to worry about anymore, anyway.

The Jade Dragon is guarded twenty-four seven by a couple mooks in expensive suits. They’re former button men who took on the cush job of standing around and looking mean. One of them flexes and I get the impression he’s got a small car up his sleeve. He holds out a meaty paw and stabs a sausage into my chest.

“You ain’t supposed to be here, Felix,” he says. He’s got that droning accent all these guys pick up at mobster school.

“Don’t I know it,” I tell him. “I just came to pay my respects to your boss before I skedaddle.”

“She’s busy,” the other mook says. His unibrow furrows as he glares at me. I’m sure I’m supposed to be scared, but he looks like he’s got a couple ditch caterpillars above his eyes.

I nod and try my best act small and weak. “I’m sure she is, boss. I’m sure she is,” I say. “She’s got a city to run into the ground.”

Unibrow glares at me. Meaty fist gives me a little shove. “Show’s over newshawk,” he says. “Time to take it on the heel and toe.”

I put my hands in the pockets of my battered rain coat and shrug. “I’m going, I’m going,” I say. “I don’t suppose you guys could give her a message for me.”

“I could give her some of your teeth,” Unibrow says. “Would that work?”

Both mooks burst out laughing. They’re probably reminiscing about the good old days of taking out a guy’s chompers with a pair of pliers.

I look around, making sure there aren’t any flatties sticking their piggy noses around and say, “That wasn’t the message I had it mind.”

“What’d you have in mind?” Meaty Fist asks.

“This,” I say.

My roscoe barks twice, blowing holes in my coat. You can’t aim a gun well when it’s in your pocket, but at this range it ain’t hard to hit to these two palookas.

They look shocked, amazed that anyone would have the moxie to chill ’em off in broad daylight. Like I said, I ain’t got nothin’ to lose so I can afford to be a bit goofy.

“Think you can remember that?” I ask as they slide to the ground. “Or should I say it again?”

Both took gut shots. Probably not gonna put ’em on ice, but those pills in the tummy hurt like hell. Unibrow tries to struggle to his feet and I kick him in the chompers on the way into the Jade Dragon.

The bar is dark all the time. It’s the best way to make sure no one watches anyone else, but I know the madam has mics on all the tables. That’s how she found out about my best girl.

I stick to the shadows and make my way to the dance floor. There, right in the middle of the dance floor is Lara Jade, owner of the Jade Dragon and all-around scum merchant. She’s propped on a table with a guy’s head between her legs. Her head is back and her eyes are closed.

I put a bullet in the back of the guy’s skull. He’d probably just as soon forget the whole experience, anyway. Lara jumps and peers around the darkened club.

She composes herself quickly. “Do you have any idea how much trouble you’re in?” she asks the darkness.

“I’m up to my neck in trouble, doll face,” I say.

Lara looks completely unconcerned. She pushes the dead guy’s head out of her lap and adjusts her dress. “I don’t know what’s worse; that you’re threatening me or that you killed him before he was done.”

I take careful aim and hope the shakes don’t pick right now to come back. My heater spits lead and her right leg goes out from under her. She screams and collapses in a heap.

“Next time I’ll let you finish before I put a bullet in you,” I say. I step into the lighted dance floor and smile warmly at her.

Recognition crosses her face, but she’s still not scared. Hurt, yeah, but not scared. “You should have stayed gone, Felix,” she hisses through gritted teeth.

“I miss the hot dogs down here,” I tell her.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Lara asks, scooting away from me. “You know you’ll never walk out of here alive.”

“I’ve got three shots,” I tell her. “Two for you, one for me.”

That caught her attention. “I just wanted to say goodbye before I left town for good,” I tell her.

Never cross a man with nothing left to lose.