Science fiction and fantasy
by Adam Christopher
Rad is going through an expensive divorce so he's inclined to take any work, no matter how dodgy. But when he begins to investigate the murder of a woman down a dark alley alarm bells start ringing. With the help of his journalist friend Kane he begins to uncover a conspiracy that goes to the heart of the Empire State itself. It's a strange place, bound by strict laws and permeated with a sense of distrust. Nobody ever leaves the Empire State or talks about anywhere else, and planning to explore its boundaries is considered more or less heretical. What's more, people are affected by a collective amnesia, as though they've all been hypnotised, and they tend to look the other way whenever something comes along that seriously challenges their world view.
It's a complex and intriguing novel: offering more puzzles every time the answers to each mystery are unlocked. Although Rad is the main character the story jumps from various other viewpoints as well, but this is handled well in that it isn't allowed to give the game away on important questions. Mid-way through the book I wasn't sure what it was all about, but by the end everything makes sense.
What I liked best about this story was the setting: there's a beautiful clash of the genteel and the brutal. There's Captain Carson in his mansion with his manservant, with his old world charm and his sherry, and there's the curiously low-key subversive known as the Pastor of Lost Souls, who mostly seems to do coffee mornings. And in the next breath there's murder, and adventure, and the rain-spattered world of the hard-bitten private eye shuffling through speakeasys, sifting clues, fielding betrayals and trying to save the city.
I'm not usually drawn to noir, so I didn't expect to like Empire State as much as I do. Of course noir is only one of its elements, and I think the story works because it brings together inventive worldbuilding, a dash of humour, vivid characters and a really meaty plot into one sinister ticking package.
Review © Ros Jackson