Three A.M. by Steven John

From Goodreads: “Fifteen years of sunless gray.

Fifteen years of mist. So thick the streets fade off into nothing. So thick the past is hazy at best. The line between right and wrong has long been blurred, especially for Thomas Vale.

Long gone are the days when new beginnings seemed possible—when he was a new recruit, off to a new start fresh in the army. He had hoped to never look back. Not like there was much to see, anyway.

First came the sickness, followed by the orders: herd the healthy into the city, shoot the infected. The gates closed and the bridges came down… followed by the mist.

Fifteen miserable years of the darkest nights and angry, awful gray days.

Thomas Vale can hardly fathom why he keeps waking up in the morning. For a few more days spent stumbling along? Another night drinking alone? Another hour keeping the shadows at bay….

But when Rebecca Ayers walks into his life, the answers come fast. Too fast.”

As the jacket promises, Three A.M. by Steven John is a dark, moody thriller shrouded in mystery and fog. Thomas Vale is the unlikable, hard-drinking, pessimistic main character – and though he is unlikable  you care about what is happening to him. After fifteen years shrouded in fog, with only glimpses at the sun, Thomas Vale meets Rebecca Smith. Tom, an occasion private investigator, reluctantly agrees to help Rebecca in solving a murder. Of course, he can’t help but be further dragged into the investigation.

Three A.M. is a gritty novel, not quite gripping, but close. It walks a fine line between being noir fiction, a thriller, or speculative fiction (or, more precisely, all three at different times). It is reminiscent of the hard-boiled detective novels that were popularized during Dashiell Hammet’s era (the novel is so dark and foggy that I couldn’t help picturing the events in black and white!). While the first half of the novel is a little slow, the second half is worth the wait (though there is a tonal shift that is rather abrupt). Overall, this is a solid debut from newcomer Steven John and an interesting addition to the speculative fiction genre. If you like this, you might enjoy Soft Apocalypse or Hitchers by Will McIntosh. Bottom line: 2.5/5, read it if you like the premise.

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