The Night Club: Part One

Did somebody turn out the lights?
(The Night Club: Part One)

The Night Club: Part One (Jiří Kulhánek, 2008) is a Czech modern fantasy horror novel. That’s a lot of adjectives. It is the first in a series of novels, with the first introducing the vigilante Night Club and their ideals, as well as covering the trials and tribulations of Tobias, the Club’s finest sharpshooter.

Right away, I implore you to not read the blurb! It gives away a good third of the novel, covering several major reveals and plot points. I’m honestly surprised they got away with a blurb so explicitly spoiler-filled. Because of my own ‘read the first line of the blurb only’ policy, I was spared the worst of it. Instead, let this review be a more expanded blurb that doesn’t give away the whole plot. Having said that, I now have to go out of the way to not get too spoiler-y myself. I don’t remember how I came across this book. It either showed up as a recommended novel on Goodreads or I somehow clicked through several related books. Thinking about it, perhaps it’s because I enjoyed The Witcher, and Goodreads decided that all translated European novels are my thing. To be fair, it wasn’t a bad recommendation.

Quick warning: This book does not tell a complete story. It just ends where you’d expect another chapter to start. This is made explicit in the opening chapter of the following novel, The Night Club: Part Two, which recaps the last few paragraphs of the previous novel and immediately launches into the rest of the story. If you end up enjoying Part One, you’ll inevitably need to buy Part Two to get any form of closure, so be aware of that. With that out of the way, onwards!

The Night Club opens with an elderly couple discussing dinner plans. Unfortunately, dinner is a ten year old girl locked in the sound-proof basement. As the husband and wife prepare to finalise arrangements, there is a knock at the door. At that moment, the couple – unbeknownst to them – ‘leave’ the Czech Republic and enter the world of the Night Club, ruthless vigilantes trained to the highest point of human achievement in murder and torture.

The goal of the Night Club organisation is to bring justice against those who would otherwise be given a free pass in an age where insanity is a valid defence in the court of law. Naturally, said justice is not just a slap on the wrist. Oh no, the penalty faced by wrongdoers is invariably death. So already it’s clear that we’re dealing with a stable group of crime-fighters, right? Their targets are not only the random serial murderers, but also large organised crime syndicates. As you might guess, they are not well-liked – well, they wouldn’t be if anyone knew who they actually were. Of course, on top of being vigilantes, they’re secret vigilantes, operating in the shadows to dispense their form of justice.

‘Super vigilantes that kill people’ isn’t exactly ground-breaking stuff, but Jiří manages to keep the fights entertaining and the Night Club themselves likeable. Despite all their training and their profession, each of them are still human, with personalities and desires.

For example we have Ripper, the group’s big-guy-with-a-machine-gun. While he’s not being an unstoppable killing machine, he has a loving family and an unhealthy obsession with the television weather girl. Again, ‘big-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold’ isn’t new, but that doesn’t make the archetype less effective.

We also have Babe, the appropriately nicknamed ultra-bombshell of the group. After all, every adolescent wish-fulfilment novel needs the incredibly unlikely 11/10 femme fatale. Despite having lived through some dreadful things, Babe maintains a bubbly personality, hiding very, very dark emotions underneath her cheerful exterior. Suffering major trauma seems to be a pre-requisite for being in the Night Club.

Tobias, as our lead, is decent enough. Late teens, early twenties, he embodies the male teenage dream of being great with guns and girls. Personality-wise, he’s kind of a jerk.  I suppose nice guys don’t usually get into the vigilante murder game. He’s not above letting bad things happen to people in order to further his goals. However, he cares deeply about the Club, and like every other member would lay down his life to protect it. The novel does a good job of making this combination of traits seem natural.

Not every character has time for development, which is fair enough given the size of the cast. Some characters seem interesting, but then you realise that their only selling point is their mystery (looking at you Dread), and it’s easier to keep them mysterious than to write something legitimately entertaining. Or less cynically, the book is about Tobias, and the author didn’t want the others muscling in on his patch.

The ‘problem’ with this – it’s less a problem and more of a technique – is that you end up with a huge cast and a lot of potential, and not enough space to follow up on obvious plot hooks. Given that this is just part one, I’m sure there’ll be time eventually for everyone. Jiří leaves a few characters in limbo by the end of the novel, hopefully he doesn’t forget about them in the next.

It’s likely clear by now that The Night Club is not a happy novel: Gore and violence are the order of the day, with graphic descriptions of torture and death filling the pages. The book has tons of back-to-back action scenes, with every movement described in great detail by the novel’s protagonist and narrator Tobias. Like every other book that features gun-play in this post-The Matrix world, the action is described as happening in slow motion to Tobias, whose training since childhood has made him into a deadly killing machine. Tobias doesn’t dwell on the philosophy of murder or vigilantism. Rather, readers are treated to vivid descriptions of exploding heads and leaking intestines.

I touched on the idea of The Night Club as another wish fulfilment novel. Like in The Witcher, the main character is meant to be someone ridiculously cool, who does amazing things and has the most unlikely things happen to him. Unlike in The Witcher, the author of The Night Club doesn’t try to tone this down at all. The reader’s first glimpse at the life of Tobias has them read about him gunning down a group of thugs in slow motion after making out with another member of the Club. Immediately after this, he meets another woman – who happens to be the most attractive woman ever – who also happens to be an amazing shot. Talk about luck, huh? To be fair, the novel goes some way towards deconstructing wish-fulfilment-as-a-genre later on, but the reader would be forgiven for shaking their head in despair during the first few chapters. Maybe this was the author’s intention: Take wish fulfilment to the logical extreme and just roll with it!

By the way, I have no idea what’s going on with the cover of this novel. I thought I read the book pretty well, and nowhere did I encounter a description that could possibly match the woman on the cover. So yes, we can conclude that ‘horny teenager’ was definitely the target demographic, and putting a scantily clad woman on the front of the book was a marketing ploy. Slightly off-putting for me, but there you go.

There’s a bit more to talk about, but it would be rude to not hide all the spoilers. I’ve went ahead and hidden them below.

Spoilery Bits

To sum up, if you’re in the target demographic, I think you’ll enjoy this book. It’s basically written for you if you’re one of those ‘if only I was an assassin’ types. But fortunately, in the process the author has created a work that can be enjoyed by action-lovers and gritty modern fantasy fans too. If you can stomach the gore and violence, The Night Club is worth reading.

– Matthew

P.S. There’s a stealth pun in the novel that I was proud I didn’t miss: The character Dread finds the evil and guilty and sentences them to death. This, of course, makes him a judge. Which makes him Judge Dread. Yeah, it was dumb. Worth the post-script though.

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