Dazzlingly original: Adam Roberts’ The Real-Town Murders (UK)

Nothing beats a leisurely weekend browse in my local bookshop. While I love discovering new reads online, there’s a special pleasure in picking up a physical book you had no intention of buying, and realising that you have to have it, because it’s exactly what you fancy reading right now.

This is how I came by Adam Roberts’ The Real-Town Murders, which first caught my eye due to its quirky title and beautifully designed cover. And once I realised it was a science fiction / crime mash-up, I was completely hooked (next to crime, SF is probably the genre I have the greatest weakness for…)

Adam Roberts, The Real-Town Murders (Gollancz, 2017)

First paragraph: ‘Where we are and where we aren’t. Where we can and cannot go. So, for example: human beings were not allowed onto the factory floor. The construction space was absolutely and no exceptions a robot-only zone. Human entry was forbidden. Nevertheless, and against all the rules, a human being had been there.’

The novel opens with Alma, a private detective in a near-future England, investigating the discovery of a body in the boot of a car. As the opening paragraph indicates, it shouldn’t be possible for the body to be there, because the factory floor where the car has just been manufactured is completely off-limits to humans. So how on earth did the corpse get into the boot?

This nifty locked-room mystery is immediately given an added twist: the crime is committed in a complex future world where an evolved version of the internet – the Shine – lures many citizens into living almost completely virtual lives. Even those who stay in the Real, like Alma, are almost permanently plugged into their feed, and navigate a world in which AI robots are ubiquitous. The tension between the virtual and the real, and the political power struggles it unleashes, are explored via the high-octane drama Alma finds herself caught up in. And there’s one important additional constraint that ratchets up the narrative tension: Alma must return to her partner every four hours on the dot to administer life-saving drugs (and it absolutely has to be her and no one else for a fascinating reason I won’t reveal here).

Watch out for: a famous director in a cameo role…

Alma is a great character – clever, resourceful and tough. And if I’m not mistaken, almost every other major character in the book – goody and baddie alike – is a woman. How refreshing is that?! The writing is sparky, noirish and packed to the brim with wry humour – such as when Alma gets into a chatty AI-taxi and unceremoniously says ‘small talk deselected’, after which it falls into a sulky silence.

The entire novel is a rollicking, highly inventive and hugely enjoyable ride that raises some genuinely thought-provoking questions about our future relationship with technology. If you fancy something completely different, look no further. The sequel, By the Pricking of her Thumbs, is also on its way.

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7 thoughts on “Dazzlingly original: Adam Roberts’ The Real-Town Murders (UK)

  1. Oh, this does sound good, Mrs. P.! I really like that mashup of different genres, and the premise is interesting. I’ll have to tell my husband in-house sci-fi expert about this. I’ll bet he’d be interested, too.

    • Sounds like a marriage made in heaven, Margot! Those genre mash-ups are a definite favourite of mine – they usually have such great verve and imagination.

  2. Sounds like my kind of book too. It will be available here in trade paper in September so I will wait for that. Thanks so much.

  3. Like the sound of this one, will pay my local waterstones a visit tomorrow. Been a fan of Sci FI for more years than I care to admit to! Reading book 1 of Philip K Dicks collected short stories, my favorite Sci FI book is still his ‘The man in the high castle’. You may be interested in a book that caught my attention ‘Moderan’ by David R Bunch its been out of print for a long while, but NYRB Classics are bringing out in August. It sounds a similar type of world to Adam Roberts, although a lot darker,look it up, also go to Wiki to read about him & his world of Moderan.
    Hidden just gets better every week, if you’ve not watched it yet I do recommend it.

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