The Night Bird
It’s nice to have Brian Freeman back again. His newly published novel, THE NIGHT BIRD, isn’t infused with quite the same gravitas as the books that comprise his successful and readworthy Jonathan Stride and Cab Bolton series, but still has more than enough darkness to go around. Freeman’s considerable writing chops are once again on full display here in this police procedural cum thriller with an inventive and twisting mystery that is a compelling read from beginning to end.
THE NIGHT BIRD introduces a San Francisco homicide detective named Frost Easton, who, like the city he works for, is a bit quirky but likable. We meet Frost as he investigates what initially appears to be the suicide of an attractive young woman named Brynn Lansing. Brynn was stuck in traffic on the Oakland Bay Bridge when she abruptly left the car and jumped off the bridge. According to Lucy Hagen, Brynn’s friend and roommate who was with her in the vehicle, Brynn was initially calm but started acting hysterically just before jumping to her death. Her actions were similar to those of another young San Francisco woman who suddenly committed suicide by gunshot a few weeks prior to Brynn’s death. The two women had something in common: they both had received a controversial method of phobia treatment from Dr. “Frankie” Stein that gradually caused the patient to forget the traumatic event, giving rise to subsequent panic attacks.
"THE NIGHT BIRD is full of twists, turns and surprises. You may think you have the entire mystery figured out by the time you are at the book’s midpoint --- well before that, actually --- but you almost certainly will be wrong."
Frost is a bit damaged himself, but not critically so, though he is still coming to grips with the murder of his younger sister some years before, an occurrence that was somewhat instrumental in his becoming a police officer. Lucy reminds Frost of his deceased sister, and given Lucy’s own attraction for him, it becomes clear that the two of them will be getting together sooner rather than later. Another interesting element of Frost’s life is that his cat is his landlord, which could only be believable in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Frost’s investigation continues as it develops that a man wearing a bizarre, Guy Fawkes-type mask might be the trigger behind the seemingly psychotic episodes that preceded the suicides…and he may well have Lucy in his sights. Suddenly, Frost has even more reason to solve this case and stop the deaths.
THE NIGHT BIRD is full of twists, turns and surprises. You may think you have the entire mystery figured out by the time you are at the book’s midpoint --- well before that, actually --- but you almost certainly will be wrong. Freeman, as he has demonstrated in his impressive bibliography, is an accomplished craftsman whose prose, plotting and characterization compel nonstop reading. His characters are to a person noteworthy and unforgettable, and his use of San Francisco as a backdrop against which the series of mysterious and bizarre deaths play out is unique, which is quite an accomplishment when one considers how frequently Fog City has been used for that purpose.
Longtime fans of Freeman may miss Jonathan Stride and Cab Bolton, but they should embrace Frost Easton, if for entirely different reasons. Here’s hoping we see more of him --- and this wonderful author --- very soon.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 17, 2017