Something More Than Night: noirish detective novel with extreme physics and angels

On, Alex Brown reviews Ian Tregillis's new novel, Something More Than Night, a noirish hard-boiled detective novel about angels and extreme physics. Tregillis wrote the spectacular Milkweed Triptych, a trilogy of novels that suppose that the Nazis had a horrific, X-men-like experiment that produced superbeings who could only be held back by the secret work of English warlocks and the blood-thirsty cosmic powers they served. With Milkweed, Tregillis showed himself to be a literary chameleon, who could handle two-fisted WWII fightin' action (Bitter Seeds); Cold War spy thrillers (The Coldest War) and mind-bending, existential time-travel science fiction (Necessary Evil — the best of the very good lot). Now, with Something More Than Night, he changes voice yet again, and with excellent effect:

It all starts when somebody murders the archangel Gabriel. A lowly nobody angel named Bayliss is tapped by the higher ups to help fill the vacuum left by the recently deceased, and, of course, being a lowly nobody, he botches the job. He shoves Molly, a stubborn, opinionated, complicated young woman, under a train instead of her less obstructive brother like he was supposed to. To make matters worse, when Gabby died, the Jericho Trumpet disappeared. To the rest of the heavenly Choir, that Trumpet is the most powerful thing in existence, so naturally they assume his redheaded replacement knows the score. Too bad she doesn't.

Bayliss is so low on the totem pole that he's practically trapped on earth. He can make little side trips here and there into his personal heaven (Magesterium) or into "Heaven" itself (Pleroma), but because he's spent so much time on earth he's adopted some of the quirkier habits of the "monkeys." In particular, he's got quite the fetish for playing Sam Spade, down to speaking in the jargon nonstop, much to Molly's chagrin.

Playing the role of the noir antihero means adhering to certain tropes, and both luckily and unluckily for Molly, Bayliss feels responsible for dragging her into such a life-threatening mess. He sets about trying to sort out who killed Gabby and why. Molly, refusing to play the damsel in distress, takes matters into her own hands and runs her own parallel investigation. Good thing, too, because what she uncovers has set its sights on its own selfish means, with no regard for the mortal lives in the way. And just when you think you've sussed out Plot Twist #8952, Tregillis throws a wrench into the whole operation and you realize just how great a writer he really is.

Something More Than Night [Amazon]

After the Big Sleep: Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis [Alex Brown/]