Book Review: Dayfall by Michael David Ares
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor (March 13, 2018)
Length: 288 pages
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Dayfall is a novel that takes place in the near future where nuclear winter has plunged much of northeast United States into darkness. In New York City, the isolation and perpetual night has caused crime rates to soar, and residents now face a new threat in the form of a brutal serial killer wreaking havoc across the city. Enter Jon Phillips, a small-town cop from Pennsylvania who idolizes Philip Marlowe of Raymond Chandler fame and has always dreamed of becoming a great detective to solve big cases like his fictional hero. Very soon, he catches his big break. After single-handedly stopping a high-profile serial killer in his own town, Jon attracts the attention of the New York City mayor Rialle King, who recruits him to do what the corrupt Manhattan police force have not been able to do—stop a knife-wielding maniac from committing more murders, a mission that has become even more imperative in the final hours counting down to “Dayfall”, an event which would bring dawn to a city that hasn’t seen natural sunlight in years.
The atmosphere that greets Jon’s arrival is one of tension and dread. Everyone is on edge, not knowing what Dayfall will bring. Already, the fearmongering groups are out in force, warning that the sunlight can bring unexpected reactions and behavior, and that people should prepare for the worst. Jon also realizes there’s more to the situation than Mayor King is letting on, especially with the impending election and her rival the millionaire Gareth Render gunning for her job. Jon is paired up with an experienced but vulgar detective named Frank Halliday, and together they must navigate the tricky web of deceit and corruption to catch the serial killer before all hell breaks loose.
On paper, the premise of Dayfall sounds brilliant, but its execution left something to be desired. First, I also had to get over the hurdle of adjusting to the prose, which felt a little clunky and wooden. The author employs a style that involves a lot of telling-not-showing, and his stark, rapid-fire way of stating what’s on the page makes me think writing might work better in a movie. His characters are also caricature-like (again, something that could possibly work better in a popcorn Hollywood blockbuster rather than a science fiction crime novel) starting with his protagonist who strives to model himself after Philip Marlowe. The blatant attempt to call to mind real world politics with the portrayal of Mayor King and her rival Render also felt cheesy and forced. In fact, the only character I found interesting was Frank Halliday, despite—or perhaps because of—the shocking and crude things to come out of his mouth, due to the fact he would at least serve up a surprise every now and then.
Ironically, the world-building was an area that could have used more detail. The idea of New York City detective trying to hunt a serial killer in darkness was what initially drew me to this tale, but many of the concepts behind this premise were patchy and ill-defined. Far-reaching changes should have had an impact on almost all aspects of life, but we only get a few examples (though to be fair, these often involved some really cool ideas). The reader is left to fill in a lot of the missing information about the history of this world, or simply suspend their disbelief and accept the environmental and social realities of what’s happening in the setting.
Speaking from my own experience, if you can do this, the story should become immensely more enjoyable. The novel’s greatest strength is its plot, which is character-driven and fast-paced. The mystery is intriguing, and Jon and Halliday’s investigation takes as many twists and turns as Manhattan’s flooded streets itself. Some of the later, more action-oriented scenes are almost cinematic and highly riveting in the way they are written, which is where Michael David Ares’ no-nonsense style actually works in his favor.
Ultimately though, this one is a first novel, and it shows in many ways. The general idea behind the story is sound, but the actual content presented seems disjointed and the characterization and world-building aspects are lacking in some of their finer details. That said, my criticisms aside, Dayfall is a quick read and might even prove to be an enjoyable one if you can overlook some of its flaws, so my final rating is three stars for this average debut.