Irontown Blues – John Varley

Chris Bach is a private detective with a sidekick named Sherlock. Sherlock is a genetically enhanced bloodhound with significant intelligence. They live in one of the vast habitats under the Lunar surface. Due to Post Dramatic Stress Disorder, Bach has retreated into a pseudo-fantasy world based on noir films and novels. He wears a fedora, and lives in “Noirtown“, a neighbourhood designed around the aesthetic of the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. One day, as befitting the stereotype, a mysterious “dame” walks into his office. She needs someone found.

Set in the “Eight Worlds” Universe some time after Steel Beach, the novel sports two very interesting, and very different, protagonists. Bach develops from his past trauma, shown in flashbacks, through his present low, and on to his maturity. More daring by Mr. Varley is to write almost half the narrative in the voice of his canine companion Sherlock. While the concept had the potential to fall flat, it is skillfully delivered, and Sherlock is fully developed as a character, albeit a rather peculiar one. The plot itself is somewhat bare-bones, but with characters like this, it has little impact on the quality of the novel.

Red Planet Blues – Robert J. Sawyer

Untitled-2Alex Lomax is a private investigator in New Klondike, a frontier town on Mars. The place is a bit of a dump, existing only due to the rush on ancient Martian fossils, and Lomax is its stereotypical gumshoe. One day, a beautiful woman walks into his office. She is a “transfer”, a human who has transferred her consciousness into a cyborg body.

The story and setting are a deliberate homage to classic noir detective films and novels. The world-building is solid, and it is a enjoyable and almost wistful reading about New Klondike’s dome and the business of “transfers”. Mr. Sawyer takes the idea of the noir detective to the limits of its stereotype, skirting deadpan satire. Naturally the protagonist is broke and has an overdue tab at a seedy bar that he frequents. Naturally the local police department is corrupt and lazy. The first half of the book is good fun. Unfortunately the second half degenerates into a confusing mess of myriad double-crosses and plot twists, taking the novel from a pleasant pastime to an often irritating morass.

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Storm Front (The Dresden Files I) – Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden is a private investigator of sorts. He is actually a wizard living in modern Chicago. In this novel, a mysterious woman hires him to find her husband. At the same time, in his capacity as police consultant on “unusual” cases, he is called in to assist in investigating a mysterious murder and soon finds himself implicated. To make matters worse, the White Council, a governing body of sorts for wizards, thinks he is guilty of crimes against the laws of magic.

The novel reads like a noir detective story, down to the lack of funds and burning of bridges with the police. The wizard and magic aspect makes for an interesting wrinkle. Unfortunately, however, it does not make the book interesting enough. Dresden is a interesting character and well crafted, but after a while the book became a bit predictable. The whole thing is too deeply steeped in noir thriller cliché. Shame really, as the whole thing is based on a cool concept.

The Dresden Files series formed the basis for a short lived TV series of the same name.

Woken Furies – Richard Morgan

The third Takeshi Kovacs novel is just as violent and X-rated as the previous installments. Morgan has not lost his gift for film noir cool and deep cynicism. So far so good. However, while Altered Carbon was a tightly written masterpiece and Broken Angels had an intriguing plot device, Woken Furies is much less focused. Sometimes it seems like Morgan is just taking the reader on a guided tour of Kovacs’ old stomping grounds on our hero’s native Harlan’s World. Granted, the guided tour is very very good, and Morgan’s prose flows smoothly, but some plot elements deserved more attention and it all seems a bit contrived. For starters, more could have been done with the duplication of Kovacs.

Altered Carbon – Richard Morgan

This book blew me away. After five or six pages I was hooked. Very cool cyberpunk/noir in a future where bodies can used (as “sleeves”) almost like clothes (albeit very expensive ones; a normal person can only afford one “extra” body and thus double his lifespan). This naturally raises some rather intriguing philosophical questions about mortality (or the lack of it), but also about how the legal system would work under the circumstances. All this is but a backdrop for a fabulous crime thriller told in the first person. It is clear that Morgan was very much inspired by Blade Runner (down to the robotic voice saying “Cross now. Cross Now. Cross Now” at a zebra crossing). The gloomy, indifferent outlook of our hero is similar, and it is answered by a similar outlook from his surroundings. The onlyshortcoming with this book is that the plot becomes a bit convoluted at times. All in all, a very very nice read.