Many years ago, a Fangoria magazine review of The Dead Hate The Living started off by mentioning that a Full Moon title without the words "Puppet" or "Toys" in it was a good sign. Which is kind of how I felt about finding a new Simon R. Green without one of his usual series names underneath it. (Not that I don't like his other series fiction, but it's always nice seeing something new coming from someone who tends to write series.)
The Dark Side of the Road introduces a new character, a new series, and while I assume it's part of the shared world inhabited by Nightside, The Droods, and the Carnaki Institue, they aren't exactly mentioned in this text. While the cheekiness factor is there in these new characters, it's not nearly as plucky as Green's other series. Which does make for a very nice departure from everything else of his. (Then again, this is book one, so lord knows what sharks are going to get jumped further down the line.)
We start by meeting Ishmael Jones, who starts the narration by echoing Melville. Ishmael works for an organization so secret, he only knows of it as The Organization. His boss and only contact with The Organization, known to him as the Colonel, calls Ishmael and asks him to join him at his family estate for the Christmas holiday. Ishmael is a bit disturbed by this, as he and the Colonel are mostly business. Ishmael also spends his life trying very hard to avoid being noticed. Some of that has to do with his work for Black Heir, the British organization responsible for dealing with illegal extraterrestrials. Given that as near as he can sort of remember, Ishmael is an extraterrestrial, leaving Black Heir became important when the new director took on the attitude of "Let's kill and vivisect everything!"
So, Ishmael ends up driving through blizzard white out conditions to reach The Colonel's family estate, Belcourt Manor. Once there, he meets the Colonel's (now known to him as James)
father, mother, step mother, and half sister, as well as their dates, escorts, and business partners.
All of whom have axes to grind with each other.
And a missing Colonel.
James shows up about a third of the way through the narrative, buried in a snowman and missing his head. About which time we find the blizzard has cut off the Manor from the outside world, and the murderer must be among the guests.
Oh hey! We have ourselves a little slice of English cozy here! I can live with this!
To be fair, by the time we find out what's going on, some of the Green we all know is back, since the murderer has their own hidden abilities, but honestly, it's kind of nice to read a nice murder mystery without valkyries riding on pterodactyls.
I'll be interested to see where this one goes, and how long before it goes off the rails.