Before we get into the rest of my full endorsement of Midnight Taxi Tango, I feel the need to ask a question: What kind of Ouija board does author Daniel José Older have access to? Is he somehow hotline blingin’ with the underworld? The way he writes about the dead, the half-dead, the preternatural and the politics that govern them — it reads more like dictation than creation. There are some genuinely creepy scenes in MTT. Skin crawling, looking over your shoulder, peering into shadows to see who is there, creepy. Other scenes are damn frightening. Let me put it to you this way: weaponized ghosts of babies who are hungry and out to devour you. Borderline nightmare stuff. What really works about this novel, and the “Bone Street Rumba” series as a whole, is that none of the scares are cheap. Every scare is legitimate. Every scare is necessary to the tale. This is evidence of Older’s mastery of his narrative.
In my opinion, Older’s strength as a novelist is his world-building. It is unparalleled. He paints fully lived-in worlds. He knows every block, every lamppost, every single wayward paper coffee cup, tossed carelessly to the ground. He knows the smells, what is sold in the bodegas, and how long the fruit has been sitting on the fruit stands. There is a geo-intimacy to his work, akin to that of Ayize Jama-Everett, that makes everything seem very alive, despite the story being populated by the dead and the half-dead.
I’ve already endorsed the first book of the “Bone Street Rumba” series, Half-Resurrection Blues, so please refer to that to get a more in-depth view of the world.
To be honest with you, MTT’s narrative conceit was jarring, at first. But once I found the rhythm, it was an incredible experience. Instead of following the story of one single character, we are privy to the POVs of three interconnected characters: Carlos Delacruz, Kia Summers, and Reza.
Carlos is the half-dead enforcer/assassin for the Council of the Dead. He’s charming, ruthless, and loves his family. Kia is the smart, smart-mouthed, self-aware, and wholly brilliant manager of Baba Eddie’s botanica. She has an experience that brings her fully into the world of the dead. A world that she only knew about by proxy. And then we have Reza. Reza. Reza. Reza. One of the better characters I have read in a long time. She is a soldier for the Medianoche Taxi Service. An organization that is way more than just a taxi service. Such a badass.
Their individual arcs are so carefully realized that any one of these characters could hold a series on their own. Together? The result is magic. You believe their relationships. Hell, you want to have relationships like that.
I don’t want to spoil too much for you, because you need and deserve to experience it for yourself. But I will spill this one piece of pure comedy:
While “Bone Street Rumba” is a world and creation unto itself, there are some elements that speak to literary worlds that came before it. The two that stand out to me the most is the New York and the family of choice of Andrew Vachss’ Burke novels and Simon R. Green’s The Nightside series. This isn’t to dismiss or discount Older’s creation, but I want to emphasize that it sits in very good company.
While Midnight Taxi Tango can be labeled urban fantasy, or neo-horror, or what have you, I would argue that it is a love story. If not an outright love story, the ideas and actions of love undergirds most plot points and character interactions. Romantic love, love for your family and friends, self-love — but most of all, it is a love letter to Brooklyn.
Not the artisanal-douchiness of current Brooklyn, but the Brooklyn of Biggie, The Brooklyn Moon, Christie’s Jamaican Patties (R.I.P.), before dogs took over Fort Greene Park, back when you could make a living doing meaningful things like being an EMT or a school teacher — and not have to be some tech person hell-bent on eradicating existing culture, one algorithm at a time. Before it was damn-near criminal to be a Person of Color in Brooklyn.
It celebrates the Brooklyn where diversity isn’t a strategy or a point of argument. In Older’s world, People of Color are there. The idea of diversity isn’t a thing. It just is. It is climate. It is oxygen. It is the real world filtered through the lens of the fantastic.
If you want incredible POC characters (who aren’t stereotypes), genuine creepiness and outright scares, a world where love is just as much a character as Carlos, Kia, or Reza, then I suggest you cop this book as soon as possible. You’ll be better for it.