I wrote last year about belatedly discovering Chris Brookmyre and since then I’ve read quite a few of his books. Places in the Darkness is interesting because it brings together two genres – mystery and science fiction.
CdC (Ciudad de Cielo) is a space station where people are doing pioneering work building a colony ship that will take future generations to the stars. It has become a beacon of hope to the people on Earth, and it has the proud claim that there has never been a murder there. When a mutilated body is found, the investigation falls to two people with conflicting agendas. Alice Blake, newly arrived representative of the governments of Earth, wants to do everything by the book, while jaded cop Nicola Freeman (known to everyone as Nikki Fixx) is wary of outside political interference.
As this book spans two genres it is front-loaded with two sets of obligatory scenes. We have the finding of the body, and the arrival of Alice, but we also have some explanation of how CdC works and the means of travel to and from Earth. I’m not a massive science-fiction fan and when I do read it I tend to be more interested in the political and cultural aspects than the technology. I’m happy to accept that it all works without a detailed explanation of the ‘science’. Fortunately, there isn’t too much exposition here (though I did skim a bit).
Once you’re over that bump the world is not unfamiliar to noir fans. Alongside the scientists and engineers who may have higher motives, CdC attracts a host of people who have reasons to leave earth – criminality, broken hearts, a desire to make money fast. It is home to dive bars, corruption and people either trying to forget, or to grab power for themselves. Overarching this are the political and corporate interests eager to exploit a captive workforce and the pressure to cover up criminality.
At the beginning of the novel Alice attends a talk by an eminent neuroscientist and the themes raised in the talk are threaded throughout the narrative, in particular the relationship between free will, society and technology. Many inhabitants of CdC have voluntarily had a mesh implanted in their brains to enhance their cognitive abilities, but it raises questions of how else it might change them.
You don’t have to be science-fiction fan to enjoy Places in the Darkness. It’s an atmospheric, fast-paced mystery in a gritty downtown setting, with some lightly drawn but thought-provoking ideas about individual choice and political and corporate responsibility. It just happens to be set in space.