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Drinking Midnight Wine

Simon R. Green

Roc / Penguin Putnam

US Trade Paperback

ISBN 0-451-45867-2

Publication Date: 02-2002

290 Pages; $14.00

Date Reviewed: 05-22-02

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Horror, Fantasy

03-07-02, 05-28-02, 05-15-03, 07-21-04

It's hard to know what to make of 'Drinking Midnight Wine', even after you've read it. Is it fantasy or is it horror? Whatever. It doesn't matter. Simon R. Green has delivered a slippery novel that will appeal to fans of both genres, and a much wider reading audience as well. Yes, the plot sounds like several Neil Gaiman novels were tossed in the blender. But they're good Neil Gaiman novels, and originality is overrated. In this case it's overshadowed by prose funny enough to elicit out-loud laughs, a cast of very likable Joes & Janes, and a plot that just manages to slip between the posts at the train station, catch the train and keep the ride alive. 'Drinking Midnight Wine' is very available, reasonably priced, and very nicely printed. The trade paperback will lie flat on the table while you chow down on your chicken fried steak. This is a damn good book.

I must admit, I had to have this novel pointed out to me by two friends. But they were trustworthy and deserving of trust. 'Drinking Midnight Wine' starts out as Toby Dexter, a bookstore slacker, is riding the bus home for the umpteenth time. The woman he's been fascinated with on most of those bus rides gets off the bus in the rain. Toby follows her, even when she opens a door in a wall where no door has ever been before. He finds himself in Mysterie, a sort of magical overlay on our reality. In Mysterie, one finds all the fairy tale creatures, the monsters, demons and gods rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi. Events in Mysterie and our world Veritie influence one another and certain residents can cross back and forth. Something is afoot in both worlds, and it comes as no surprise to the reader that Toby is the crux of these events.

What follows is an enjoyable horror-fantasy romp with lots of action and a cast of very well drawn likable characters. This is the kind of "likable" that makes the reader actually look forward to returning to the various players' points-of-view. I was primed to resists liking this novel, since in my first evaluation it seems unconscionably derivative. But having actually read it, I was reminded of the fact that, as I mentioned above, originality is overrated. 'Drinking Midnight Wine' is not in fact working in a territory that's really, really well trodden though, and Green puts his own fantasy-oriented stamp on things. Moreover, the book made me, yes it made me laugh out loud several times, even as I tried to resist. Well, as they say in Star Train, 'Resistance is futile.'

'Drinking Midnight Wine' seems at first as if it might suffer from an insufferable hero in Toby Dexter, who is so unmotivated that readers might first want to step on him and scrape him off the bottom of their shoe. Don't. This is one of those books where characters actually undergo a little bit of convincingly drawn maturation. At every point where one might seek to find fault, Green surprises with skill. Now he never goes over the edge into something overly arty or experimental. This is meat and potatoes fantasy-horror, but comfort food is making a comeback, and this is kind of comfort food you'd expect to pay an arm and a leg for.

Roc / Penguin Putnam are to be congratulated for picking up on this very British novel and publishing it stateside. The setting is a small town in England, Bradford-on-Avon, and it's very well described. Green puts the read in every picture with all the skill of Dean Koontz. His action scenes are well choreographed and play easily on the small-brain big-screen. The jokes grease up the mix, and if world saving is called for yet again, at least there are a few laughs in the process. 'Drinking Midnight Wine' boasts some rather nice prose as well. Don't be put off by anything. 'Drinking Midnight Wine' is an excellent novel that has the potential to really break out, sell well, and most importantly, be enjoyed by a huge reading audience.