Book Review: Midnight Taxi Tango by Daniel José Older
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 2 of Bone Street Rumba
Publisher: Roc (1/5/16)
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Midnight Taxi Tango is the second book of the vividly imaginative Bone Street Rumba series. I can honestly say I’ve never encountered an urban fantasy quite like this, and I said as much in my review of the first book last year, which I enjoyed immensely! I knew as soon as I was finished reading Half-Resurrection Blues that I wanted to continue this cool and unique series.
But I won’t beat around the bush; while I had a good time with Midnight Taxi Tango and thought it was overall a fun and entertaining read, there were a few issues that I thought made this sequel weaker than its predecessor. First, a quick rundown of the story to provide context for my points below. The series’ main character is Carlos Delacruz, a man who is not quite alive and also not quite dead. His time before is a complete blank; all he knows is that he died and was brought back to life into this state of “in between”. Now he works as a kind of enforcer for the New York Council of the Dead, tasked to hunt down and execute the city’s errant ghosts or any supernatural denizens who misbehave.
Most recently, a string of paranormal-related murders have been occurring around Brooklyn’s Von King Park, and naturally Carlos is sent to investigate. On one such trip to the park, his team actually manages to catch and stop an attack in progress, and the would-be victim happens to be someone Carlos knows—Kia, a teenage girl who works for one of his good friends. The incident has terrified her, especially now that she has been touched by the ghost sight, opening her eyes to a whole other side of New York.
Carlos himself isn’t in the best frame of mind either. The events of the last year have left him heartbroken and depressed, even though he tries hard not to admit it. Sasha, the woman he loves had walked out of his life following his act of unspeakable betrayal, and he still lives with the guilt every day. And herein lies one of my biggest issues with this book. The coolheaded and capable Carlos I was first introduced to in Half-Resurrection Blues is a shadow of himself in Midnight Taxi Tango. As soon as he thinks about Sasha or anything related to her, he turns into a complete and utter mess. Even though I understood on multiple levels where he was coming from, he would have gotten himself killed many times over had others not stopped him from rushing headlong into danger. I knew something was wrong the moment Carlos became someone I could no longer root for, and in fact many times over the course of this book I silently hoped to myself that Sasha would never forgive him.
Initially, I was also excited when I found out Kia was a POV character in this book. There was a real noticeable lack of female presence in the first book, so if nothing else, I was very happy that Daniel José Older beefed up this aspect in Midnight Taxi Tango. I also remember meeting Kia from Half-Resurrection Blues and she was one cool girl, so I was looking forward to getting to know her better. Turns out, I was right in that there were many things I loved about her, like her courage and her strength and resourcefulness. But Kia is also a teenager, and there were a lot of other things I found off-putting, like her petulance and her judgmental attitude. I also have no problem with profanity in books, especially in prose and in dialogue where they add feeling to the characters and story, but Kia’s chapters frequently quoted song lyrics riddled with F-bombs and I felt these served little purpose other than to make want to me skip through large swaths of her narrative, to be honest.
There was a surprise third POV in this book, however, and that was Reza. Now Reza, I adored! I loved absolutely everything about her, from her backstory to the way she talks and operates. I wish I could say more, but since this is the grand debut of her character and her colleagues’ “midnight taxi service”, it would be way more fun to discover her story for yourselves. Suffice to say, she is a force to be reckoned with—cool, calm and always prepared for anything. I loved her take-no-prisoners attitude and the way she pretty much took over Carlos’ role in this book as the one who got things done. I really hope she’ll return for future books; if not as a POV character again, then at least in a supporting role.
I have a few more minor quibbles, but in general they can be summed up by the fact I just didn’t feel this book was as well put together as the first one. I only found out after I finished that a few scenes in this novel were apparently drawn from a couple of previously published short stories by the author, and maybe that had something to do with it? In some ways, this story did feel like an amalgamation of several parts cobbled together, with the seams not too carefully hidden, and the final product needed some detailing and polish. For example, I felt the villains in this book were crudely sketched and had a “Monster-of-the-Week” feel to them like they were specifically written for this book and then meant to be thrown away, never to be dealt with again. Overall I also felt the prose in this sequel lost a lot of that “poetic” quality that made me fall in love with the writing in Half-Resurrection Blues.
Still, I thought Midnight Taxi Tango was a good book. Technically you can also jump into it without having read the first book because Older does a fantastic good job recapping the story. If you enjoy action, you might even prefer this sequel because it contains a lot more suspense and excitement. As a series, however, I think the next book will have to step up its game if Bone Street Rumba is to distinguish itself from all the urban fantasy available out there. No matter what though, I’m too invested in Carlos’ story to stop now so I definitely have plans to continue. I’m curious about the wider story arc, and I have to admit a part of me is really looking forward to see Carlos and his pals rain hell down on the NYCOD!
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Half-Resurrection Blues (Book 1)