Midnight Taxi Tango by Daniel José Older
Midnight Taxi Tango, which was published today, is the second book in Daniel José Older’s BONE STREET RUMBA series. Things have changed dramatically for Carlos Delacruz, the half-alive agent of the Council of the Dead, who monitors badly-behaving ghosts and spirits in Brooklyn. Carlos has learned a bit more about his pre-death existence, and the love of his life has left him.
Carlos and his senior partner the ghost Riley are charged with investigating several strange “random” accidents at a local park, and it is clear that they are not random. Soon he is fighting weaponized child ghosts and trying to keep his friends alive.
Jana and I both read Midnight Taxi Tango and we are commenting on it jointly here.
Marion: I liked this book, although I found the point of view shifts a bit jarring at the beginning. I did think the “random accidents” dropped out of the story without much explanation (unless I missed it). By the time Reza, who drives for the Medianoche Car Service and who Carlos describes as the Human Angel of Death, shows up, I was completely on board. Reza is a new character and I took to her immediately. Kia, the bored teenage counter clerk for santero Baba Eddie, had seemed rather flat in the first book, but in this one, Kia has her own story, and came to life for me.
My stride is long today, my fro magnificent. I tall-step in and out of long shadows; watch my own shadow dance along beside me; the gravity-defying waves of my hair make my head a wild dark star against the pavement. King Impervious thunders another verse into my ears and the beat is sick — it carries me along on its own gale of blasting bass drones and the mischievous clack-clack snicker of the snare.
Jana: I think the “random accidents” were being caused by the ghost-baby set to wait for Kia at Von King Park — once Carlos, Riley, and Sylvia caught it, the accidents stopped. Of course, that doesn’t stop Kia from being in danger, because the group behind the weaponized ghost-babies still wants to erase her, but that’s a whole other story.
I was so glad to see Reza show up in Midnight Taxi Tango — of the three Tor.com stories that Older repurposed into Cycle One of this novel, “Anyway: Angie,” “Kia and Gio,” and “Ginga,” Reza’s story and voice were my favorite. Once the novel really gets into its flow and the different points of view are established, everything else just moves with the beat. Older did a great job of creating separate narrative voices; Carlos is the same well-established character from Half-Resurrection Blues, but Reza is tougher and harder, and Kia is a too-smart teenager with insecurities and a streetwise toughness. Bringing multiple narrators into the mix helps the reader understand more of what’s going on than what Carlos sees, and shows off more of Older’s skills at the same time.
I loved Reza, and I liked how Older gives us her genesis in the Afterword. I also like the secondary character Sylvia Bell. She’s interesting.
And I love that you used the expression “just moves with the beat” because the musicality of this book was one of my favorite things. Kia has a soundtrack; Carlos has the bluesy song Sasha gave him and the book is full of sound and rhythm.
It really is, and that musicality helps to set this series aside, in my mind, from run-of-the-mill urban fantasy books or series.
In Midnight Taxi Tango we also get a slightly closer view of what the Council of the Dead does, thanks to their interactions with Carlos, and the warrens of bureaucracy that Carlos doesn’t have access to because he’s a low-level Agent. It’s interesting that Older hints at possible double-dealings within the Council — maybe the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, or maybe there are machinations and grand plans somehow involved in both Sarco’s hijinks from Half-Resurrection Blues and Midnight Taxi Tango’s Blattodeons and their disgusting pink cockroaches. While the immediate problems of each novel are addressed satisfactorily at their conclusions, I do like that Older is establishing an overarching structure that links them to one another and leaves room for future novels.
I love the way the Council is developed in these books; at first it seemed like an agency hobbled by its own bureaucracy, but in Midnight Taxi Tango we see that the problem is corruption. Now the question is whether that corruption is isolated or systemic, and I think we’re going to find out.
I also love the details of this world, the way Older creates these pockets of magic in the middle of a concrete, fully realized mundane world. Whether it’s a research librarian or the Burgundy Bar, which, unbeknownst to its owners and bartenders, is actually a ghost-cop-bar, Older sells me completely on the idea of a world filled with the unknown and the magical right next to us.
Absolutely. One of the aspects of the BONE STREET RUMBA series that I love so much is that we’re talking about a world in which ghost cops and evil cultists are an accepted part of reality for the characters who experience them. Part of this is, like you said, the details: Dr. Tijou’s phenomenal skills as a surgeon fit hand-in-glove with Baba Eddie’s Santeria, and rather than creating cognitive or narrative disconnect, it all comes together to make a rich and fascinating world.
I’d also like to point out that the cover art for these books is really appealing: as soon as you see Carlos and his cane-blade on Half-Resurrection Blues or Kia wielding a machete (with those HUGE headphones covering her ears, blasting King Impervious) on Midnight Taxi Tango, you know you’re in for serious action.
All in all, I think Midnight Taxi Tango is a great follow-up to Half-Resurrection Blues. I’m eager to see where the series goes from here, and I’m simultaneously dreading and looking forward to even more revelations about Carlos’ past. Poor guy can’t seem to catch a break!
I listened to the audiobook (years after Marion and Jana discussed the novel above). It’s hard to know whether to recommend it. I love that it’s narrated by the author himself, but he has a deep masculine voice that worked great for Carlos in the first book but doesn’t work as well in this book which has female points of view, also. Older doesn’t do anything with his voice to distinguish between the characters (which almost all voice actors normally do when narrating for audiobooks) so the transitions to new speakers, though announced as chapter headings, didn’t always “take” in my mind since all the characters sound the same. Sometimes I had to pause and try to remember whose point of view we were hearing from. One thing I did like, though, was that Older’s wife, Nastassian Brandon-Older, performed Kia’s raps (though not her other speaking parts). That was awesome.
One more thing: I have a cockroach phobia, so I didn’t like this story as well as the previous one, and I had nightmares. I hope there won’t be any cockroaches in the next book.