Adam Roberts has a reputation for clever, ideas-dense speculative fiction. His latest novel is The Real-Town Murders (review copy from Gollancz). The novel is a near-future murder mystery and thriller that opens with a classic locked room mystery: a body is found in the boot of a car fresh off a manufacturing line that is covered by CCTV from start to finish. A private detective called Alma is retained to investigate. The investigation leads Alma to become involved in a much wider conspiracy.
Roberts’s setting is a near-future Reading, but one where those who can, and can afford to, live and work in the Shine: virtual worlds that are limited only by a person’s imagination. Rather than being seduced by the technology, Roberts focused on its implications, particularly for current models of governance based on geography and the nation-state. What does it mean when the population have no need to travel for work, and can escape the constraints of physical geography into spaces limited only by their imaginations and processing power? Current pillars of society begin to slowly erode, compete with one another and eat themselves.
Alma is one of the few who doesn’t live in the Shine. She is at the other extreme – tied to one physical spot with only a limited ability to roam. Her partner is house-bound and the victim of a virus that is gene-bound to Alma. Every four hours Alma must be at home to treat her, or her partner will die. It’s a punishing schedule at the best of times, but one that becomes even more difficult when one is on the run from the law.
As if all of this wasn’t quite enough, Roberts adds a layer of Alfred Hitchcock film references on the top, all updated for his near-future setting. And no Hitchcock film would be complete without a cameo appearance from the great man himself.
The Real-Town Murders is a great thriller, but it suffers slightly from almost being almost too clever for its own good at times.
Goodreads rating: 4*