Robin Triggs delivers an initially-solid-but-ultimately-rage-inducing Antarctic mystery-thriller peppered with a few doses of low-key science fiction concepts, in his debut, Night Shift.
As the Australis base prepares for six months of darkness, a freshly-appointed security officer, Anders Nordvelt, arrives just in time for the crew to find themselves under attack. Obviously, it doesn't take long for Nordvelt to become the prime suspect in the baffling string of disasters befalling the Australis's researchers and miners, and Triggs keeps both Anders and readers guessing about the real culprit and his or her motivations in this little whodunnit.
The isolated Australis is positively rife with suspects, from the overbearing and sexually promiscuous base commander, right down to the janitor, Max, who keeps herself secluded from the rest of the crew and surrounded by jury-rigged robots and welded metal sculptures. Seemingly everyone has a motive, and as Triggs reveals new facets of his characters he gives readers plenty of meat to chew on as the guessing game wears on.
While the mystery aspect of Night Shift is pacey and intriguing, the science fiction aspects feel a bit tacked on, and even superfluous at times. Triggs gives us small doses of near-future tech and hints of a dystopic Company-ruled world at large, but these minor conceits are never explored deeply enough to feel wholly necessary. Even the book's climax, which ultimately hinges on the half-baked incorporation of these sci-fi elements, lacks the necessary oomph and depth of information to really deliver a powerhouse of a finale as the culprit's motivations come unraveled.
After seeing how the all pieces fell together, I was still left with a frustrating question of why? Why was any of what happened necessary? Unfortunately, Night Shift isn't able to provide a satisfying answer to resolve its own premise, and Triggs simply doesn't do enough world-building or provide us with enough information to make the culprit's motivation for the attacks feel smooth and logical. Worse still, in a brief supplemental interview with the author at book's end, Triggs compounds the lack of information in Night Shift with a promise to explore all this stuff in better detail over the course of a trilogy. As far as I'm concerned, it's a cardinal sin, as well as a rage-inducing annoyance, to knowingly fail to properly execute a narrative in book one, hinging the importance of your book's finale on concepts reserved for book two, and promise to make it up to readers at a later date. Night Shift's finish is the type of cash-grab finale that makes me hate the whole damn thing, which is a shame because I did enjoy most of it, right until it royally pissed me off for wasting so much of my precious time.
The bulk of Night Shift is a breezy and engaging enough read, right until the book's last few chapters where it quickly falls apart and devolves into a supremely frustrating experience as Triggs delivers a softball non-ending that serves only to provide fuel for additional mysteries regarding a concept that felt largely extraneous to begin with. It's a book that I mostly liked, right up until the bait-and-switch revelation that Night Shift is intended to be the first in a trilogy. Triggs gives us an interesting bit of mystery in the Antarctic, a location I absolutely love to see explored in fiction, but fails to stick the landing, delivering a finale that's cheap and flimsy, and, worse, predicated upon its expectation that readers cough up for more time and money for a sequel if they want the real story.
[Note: I received an advanced reading copy of Night Shift from its publisher, Flame Tree Press.]
View all my reviews