Friday, August 24, 2018

Review of The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts (Gollancz, 2017)

Alma is a private detective in the near-future in R!-town, the re-branded name for Reading, just outside of London. Because her bed-bound partner, Marguerite, needs essential care every four hours or she’ll perish Alma only works real-world crimes, shunning those that take place in the Shine, the immersive successor to the internet. Her new case though is going to test her time keeping abilities. She’s hired to solve an impossible locked-room mystery. A man’s body is found in an automated factory in the trunk of a car that is never out of sight of three cameras. It doesn’t matter how many times she views the footage the body simply appears. Before she can make much headway the person who hires her is also dead and she’s wanted for questioning. But Alma can’t afford to miss her four hour deadline and nothing is going to stop her meeting it: the police, warring government departments, rogue drones, other murders, or various injuries.

The Real-Town Murders mashes together SF and PI crime fiction, along with some social and political commentary on where digital technology is taking us. Set in a near-future England, most people spend all their waking hours in the Shine, an immersive VR internet, their bodies kept in shape by mesh-suits that exercise them while their online. Alma and her partner Marguerite, however, only live in the real-world due to the latter’s medical condition, which requires attention every four hours. The pair work as private investigators, the perfect combination of intuition and logic, although Marguerite never leaves their apartment. Their present case is a locked-room mystery that seemingly only has one answer and that defies the laws of physics. Adams takes that premise and then spins out an action-packed, thoughtful and humorous yarn that revolves around a high-level political coup. The characterisation is nicely done, as is the realisation of Britain in the near-future, where many jobs are automated and the towns are largely devoid of life. And the locked-room puzzle is a conundrum wrapped in a conspiracy. I found the story highly entertaining and hope that it's the first of a new series.

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