Adrienne Martini reviews The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts

The Real-Town Murders, Adam Roberts (Gollancz 978-14-73221-45-1, £16.99, 234pp, hc). August 2017.

Locus Magazine, Science Fiction FantasyAdam Roberts’s The Real-Town Murders is his version of a locked-room mystery, which is to say, it is both familiar and strange by equal turns. It is also delightful.

What is familiar is the set-up. Alma, a near-future private investigator, is delivered a case about a body found in the trunk of a car. Given that these particular cars are made entirely by robots while under surveillance from all sides, there is no way a dead human could have wound up in the boot. And, yet, there it is.

The case itself meanders and turns, as all good mysteries should, and its conclusion is satisfying. What is even more satisfying is the world Roberts builds around it. This is an England where the bulk of the population stays in the Shine, an immersive virtual experience. The Real World struggles to compete with the wonders of the Shine, rebranding British towns to make them more exciting – Read­ing, for example, is now R!-town – and carving faces into what seem to be the white cliffs of Dover. It’s also an England with malicious bioengineering. An ancillary case of Alma’s involves a client who eats voraciously, yet loses weight. And then there’s Alma’s partner, Marguerite, who, like Nero Wolfe, never leaves their flat.

But her reasons don’t stem from mere eccen­trism. Marguerite has been infected – we don’t know why or how – with a virus that could poten­tially kill her every four hours if Alma does not administer an antidote that only she can deduce. It’s a nice device that brings urgency to Alma’s story. As she gets deeper into the case and tossed, at times, far from home, that drive to get back to Marguerite is the pulse that drives her.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the October 2017 issue of Locus.

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