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Tabula Rasa

Path of Night

By Dirk Flinthart, Fablecroft, 2013

Reviewed by Kyla Lee Ward

Path of Night coverTen

This is a by-the-numbers thriller, so you can expect certain things. An easy-going Everyman who stumbles into something he shouldn't – in this case, illegal biological research. A spunky lady cop, following the fallout and determined to get to the bottom of things. An ice-cold assassin who's already there. Sparks of sexual tension, and rapidly escalating violence. And it's not too much of a spoiler to suggest that, at the end, there's going to be one hell of a –

Nine

But it's also got vampires in it. Night beasts. Now, you could call these monsters old school – the path leads back to ancient Mesopotamia – except that old school vampires aren't generally this well-equipped. Flinthart takes the sensible approach that, even if the Night Beast virus creates bloodthirsty, super-powered psychopaths, they aren't going to survive the millennia without getting properly organised. There's even a treaty in place, to prevent all-out war between them and an ancient order of vampire hunters. Of course, the unprecedented changes occurring to our hero could defenestrate everything.

Eight

What you look for in a romp like this is deft handling of the tropes. Flinthart delivers a thoughtful and entertaining take on his material. Mike's condition brings on moral quandaries, that lend the emotional action the same kind of crunch that the convincing details of hardware and procedure grant the more militaristic sequences. The operations of the Hunter, Hellyer, are pleasingly plausible, as are the machinations of the villainous, yet intelligent, Lutterell, "the Seigneur's Seneschal".

Seven

There is also an atypical setting: Sydney is not a place generally associated with the terrors of darkness. And yet here they are. The blazing sunlight rapidly becomes a vital tactical consideration, just as thunder, sweat and prickly heat construct the atmosphere. Juxtaposing the suburban ordinary of Carlingford and Parramatta with the arcane is effective, and the strictly local references to bogans and Gina Rinehart had me chuckling.

Then there is the Night Beast Wirrin, "the Seigneur's Shadow", who nobody sees coming and nobody can hide from. He identifies as indigenous, and heir to the magical traditions of his people. It is an interesting addition to the mix of Mesopotamia and Eastern Europe, and Flinthart just about gets away with it – if only because Wirrin is so damn cool.

Six

Wirrin represents an advanced stage on the traditional Path of Night. Mike does not. What Mike's progress resembles more than anything, is male puberty. A mythologisation of it: suddenly, he has increased strength and the physique to go with it. Fighting seems perfectly natural. Women are suddenly interested in him, and above all, he eats like there's no tomorrow.

This is a man's world, and Detective Senior Constable Jennifer Morris, and the archaeologist Dr. Pamela Parker, are in the familiar position of having to be twice as good merely to mark their places. Still, Jen's response to the final crisis, in terms of lateral thinking, competency and chutzpah, is second to nothing and earns her some belated respect.

Five

Perhaps it is simply compared to Jen that I found Mike a little bland. Fair enough, he spends a portion of the book in understandable shock, and some quality time on medication.

"Fish don't swear!" he yelled. "Bad fish! BAD FISH!"

But the almost painstaking ordinariness of his thought-processes, presumably meant to enable the reader to identify with his travails, undercut my interest. His identity as a medical student comes into play on occasion, as does the casual martial arts training, but neither these nor such detail as we receive regarding his past life really coalesce. And when his moment of realisation comes, it marks him as a survivor, not a crusader.

Four

Still, lively writing carries the day, and even Mike comes out with some priceless lines. The supporting cast, too, features some wonderful characters: I especially enjoyed Private Mick and Corporal Mayo (who can remember being bored), and Lutterell's snide observations. Flinthart also writes combat well, keeping everyone's positions and actions clear while maintaining the inexorable momentum towards –

Three

Dirk Flinthart is indeed Australian, although these days he lives in Tasmania. Although Path of Night is his first novel, he has a solid track record in short horror and science fiction, including Ditmar awards for "Not My Story" (ASIM #37) and for editing the anthology Canterbury 2100 (Agog! Press, 2008). Path of Night was a 2013 Aurealis finalist.

Two

Book Two of the Night Beast series is reportedly under way, to be entitled Midnight in Chinatown. Perhaps future developments will reveal the true depths of Mike's nature, or rather natures. They will undoubtedly test the strength of Jen's friendship, and set humanity counting down towards an even greater –

One

"Bastard fish!"

BOOM

 

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