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Nocturne for a Dangerous Man
Marc Matz
Tor Books, 448 pages

Nocturne for a Dangerous Man
Marc Matz
Marc Matz lives in California. Until recently, he was in charge of a beauty-products company. He first came to the people's attention with a short story in an early volume of L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future. Nocturne for a Dangerous Man is his first novel to be published.

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A review by Todd Richmond


Nocturne. Hmm. 'näk-tern. A work of art dealing with evening or night; esp: a dreamy, pensive composition for the piano. (It's usually a bad sign when I have to reach for a dictionary to get past the first word of the title for a book.) Nocturne for a Dangerous Man. Hmm... The dangerous man is obviously the protagonist, Gavilan Robie, a master musician, art connoisseur, linguist, and lethal martial artist. So is this a dreamy, pensive look at Robie? That, of course, is subjective. Dreamy? Certainly not. Sadly thoughtful? I'll let you decide.

Nocturne for a Dangerous Man takes place sometime in the not-so-distant future, in a world not so different from our own. Gavilan Robie, once a member of the Clandestine Action Rescue Committee, is a freelance art recovery expert. When rich people or corporations lose a valuable piece of art, Robie is hired to retrieve it. He's very good at his job, and is thus a rich man himself.

Occasionally Robie retrieves other more valuable objects -- people. Nocturne for a Dangerous Man is the tale of one such quest. Robie is hired by Groupe Touraine, a powerful multinational corporation, to find an employee kidnapped by a group of terrorists. There are a few wrinkles and complications along the way, but that's the basic plot.

There's a lot to like in Marc Matz's first novel. The characters are incredibly rich and well-rounded, especially Robie. Robie is a true renaissance man -- a master of art, music, languages, psychology, and the martial arts. He's a man of strict principles who lives a very private lifestyle. He's very careful to separate his friends from his business and to keep innocents out of harm's way. He has an off-again/on-again relationship with a woman who has trouble dealing with what he does for a living. He has an interesting relationship with his cello. (You have to pay close attention at first to avoid confusing Kit, his girlfriend, with Jesse, his cello.)

The story itself is a pleasure to read. Robie is a cool, careful professional, methodically tracking down leads, finding connections, and slowly tightening the noose on the elusive kidnappers. The story is very complex and detailed, perhaps too complex. I had to read it through twice and I'm still sure I missed a few points. There are a lot of characters and a great deal happening. At times I found myself wishing for a cheat sheet of the cast of characters.

But while overly detailed at some points, at others the details are curiously sparse. The sense of the society in general, including the technology and the cultural norms, is surprisingly vague. For instance, it's practically impossible to pinpoint when the story is supposed to be taking place (I guessed around 2050). There are hints about technologies like self-driving cars, artificially enhanced humans, genetic engineering, and virtual reality simulations, but no specifics. Robie uses a few high-tech items but it's difficult to determine whether they are high-priced toys for the rich, or everyday items used by ordinary people. There's also a bit about some sort of catastrophic climatic change called the Transition, but there is no elaboration -- only a hint that it caused a lot of damage. It's almost as if Matz were writing the third or fourth book of a series and had shared all those basic details in the first couple of books.

The story moves along at a modest pace through most of the book and then accelerates dramatically at the end. Before you know it, the book is over. That is sort of disappointing, because the whole book is naturally leading toward the final confrontation. But it works, and that's what counts. Considered as a whole, Nocturne for a Dangerous Man is an excellent action/thriller set in futuristic setting. While the world/society that serves as the backdrop could use a bit more work, it doesn't distract from the story. The story and characters are far more interesting than the science fiction setting, as they should be. I'm looking forward to more novels from Marc Matz.

Copyright © 1999 by Todd Richmond

Todd is a plant molecular developmental biologist who has finally finished 23 years of formal education. He recently fled Madison, WI for the warmer but damper San Francisco Bay Area and likes bad movies, good science fiction, and role-playing games. He began reading science fiction at the age of eight, starting with Heinlein, Silverberg, and Tom Swift books, and has a great fondness for tongue-in-cheek fantasy Óla Terry Pratchett, Craig Shaw Gardner and Robert Asprin.

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