Originally Published at Freshly Ground on May 21st 2009
In the brave new world of the podcast novel, it takes something special to be called a classic. Nocturnal by Scott Sigler is just such a rare creature.
Scott Sigler was among a very small group of writers who literally pioneered the Podcast Novel format, releasing his first book, Earthcore, in 2005. At the end of that podcast there is a very interesting Q&A with Mark Jeffrey, which provides a snapshot of both how small the audiobook market was at the time, and how Sigler envisioned it growing into the creature it has become - and that creature continues to grow.
Nocturnal is Sigler's third podcast novel, and it is a masterpiece of action horror. What starts out as a police procedural detective novel with a paranormal element quickly morphs into a gruesome and electrifying monster story, and from there into an action rollercoaster that would put John Woo to shame.
You'll forgive me if I slip, but I tend to recall Nocturnal as a movie rather than a book. The action and the imagery have seared into my skull, all chiascuro shadows and arcing blood lit by guttering streetlights and gunfire.
Sigler's dark alternate San Francisco is a place of fear and tension, haunted by unseen monsters, remorseless gangsters, ruthless vigilantes, corrupt cops, and a psychotic schoolboy with a god complex. Through this morass of murder two cops face the challenge of trying to solve the murders that have started to plague the city, only to find a conspiracy that even the SFPD doesn't want them to uncover.
This stuff is addictive. I personally neglected family, friends and more important things like writing my own novel to listen to this book. Sigler gets his teeth into your soft, tender flesh and shakes, not letting you go until he's wrenched you through the increasingly brutal and bloody story of the Nocturnals. And he pulls no punches whatsoever. Where Hollywood would turn away or save the day, Sigler just continues to rip shreds, and it is fantastic.
Not for the light of heart, I must emphasise. Nocturnal is R18 on every scale, for language, violence, torture, and even on a conceptual level. Yes, I squirmed more than once. But the payoff is so worthwhile, and nothing in this book is wasted. Every act of brutality, every murder, every fight, every explosion serves a valid and crucial purpose to the story. At the same time, Sigler can do subtext and complexity as well as he does action. I do not understand how Dan Brown sells more books than this guy. Brown is nothing next to Sigler.
Sigler's writing is also a pleasure to listen to, his dialogue sharp and his prose as witty as it is tight. He carries a vast cast of characters, voicing each with confidence and consistency. As usual, I cringe a little when a grown man puts on a woman's voice, but if I could do any better, I'd have some grounds to complain. I can't, so good on you Scott for giving it your all.
The audio production is clean and professional, relying almost entirely on Sigler's voice to carry the story. I can only recall one location that was augmented by a creepy harpsichord music track, and that really stood out for its oddity. As I've said, Sigler is a clever writer and a powerful performer, and thus requires little in the way of bells and whistles to bolster his efforts.
Again, for a free work, this is just brilliant. It is said that Sigler doesn't have fans; he has junkies. I just finished Earthcore today, and I still have four podcasts by Sigler to listen to. The future is bright.
Nocturnal is an instant classic. Available as a free podcast download through iTunes and Podiobooks. Swing by Sigler's site for more info on this modern literary maestro, one of the true pioneers and energetic advocates of this great artform.