Tuesday 28 July 2020

#CBR12 Book 48: "Places in the Darkness" by Chris Brookmyre

Page count: 416 pages
Audio book length: 14 hrs 42 mins
Rating: 3 stars

#CBR12 Bingo: Book Club (this was a pick in my fantasy/sci-fi book club a few months back)

Offical book description:
Hundreds of miles above Earth, the space station Ciudad de Cielo - The City in the Sky - is a beacon of hope for humanity's expansion into the stars. But not everyone aboard shares such noble ideals.

Bootlegging, booze, and prostitution form a lucrative underground economy for rival gangs, which the authorities are happy to turn a blind eye to until a disassembled corpse is found dancing in the micro-gravity.

In charge of the murder investigation is Nikki "Fix" Freeman, who is not thrilled to have Alice Blake, an uptight government goody-two-shoes, riding shotgun. As the bodies pile up, and the partners are forced to question their own memories, Nikki and Alice begin to realize that gang warfare may not be the only cause for the violence. 

This book, a science fiction mystery from an author I'd never even heard of, was the June selection of my local fantasy/sci-fi book club. We met up in a park for the first time in several months, responsibly distanced at least six feet apart, to discuss it. As is often the case, I had started the book (in this case, the audio version), but had only gotten about ten chapters in and was unsure of whether I wanted to continue or not. The rule at our book club is that you're absolutely welcome to show up even if you haven't finished the book (or read it at all, which seems to happen a lot with a lot of the members), but you don't get to be upset if you get spoilers. I think it's a fair rule. Happily, the book club meeting and subsequent discussion made it clear that the story WOULD pick up and that the mystery was interesting and had an unusual outcome. 

So I kept going with the book, and while it isn't going to be one that I'm likely to remember for years to come, it ended up being entertaining. I liked that while the book was written by a man, both the main protagonists are women, and no point was there anything that made me think this author should be made fun of on one of those "men writing women badly" lists. The characters may be quite tropey for a mystery, one is a middle-aged former police detective with a haunted past who has now given up a bit and is involved in local corruption, while the other is the up-and-coming, talented and ambitious administrator from a privileged background - yet in so many of these stories, these characters would be men. That Nikki is also an openly queer woman, without it in any way seeming to be written for titillation was also encouraging. 

Alice Blake has been sent to Ciudad de Cielo as the new head of security and asks that her true rank and position is kept hidden when the murder is announced. She wants to observe Nikki Freeman, one of the few security officers with former homicide experience, without the other woman knowing she's being evaluated. They don't exactly hit it off and become friends, but when it seems as if Nikki is being set up as the culprit for the murders (because of course there is more than one) and Alice starts to question her memories and control of her own actions, the two women grudgingly agree to work together to figure out who is treating the space station as their own private murder party. 

All in all, this was a perfectly fine read. I doubt I'll be checking out any more books by the author (who mostly seems to do traditional, non-sci-fi mysteries), but considering I knew absolutely nothing about the book or author going in, save that it was set on a space station, it turned out to be a fun ride. 

Judging a book by its cover: There is no doubt, looking at the cover, that this is a sci-fi story, with the futuristic-looking space station floating in the darkness of space front and centre on the cover. That it's also a fairly clever mystery isn't as immediately obvious. 

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