The Noah: a city-sized ship, four hundred years into an epic voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity must be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah’s telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime… if not longer. And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.
And there you have the blurb… I’m a sucker for generational ship science fiction – it provides an ideal backdrop for any kind of drama, given that it is the ultimate closed system. And because it is also entirely imaginary, it means an author can add/tweak all sorts of details designed to ramp up the tension and increase the sense of claustrophobia… So does Ramirez take full advantage of this scenario? Oh yes.
We are immediately pulled into the daily routine of the ship via Ramirez’s protagonist, Hana in first person viewpoint telling her story in present tense. Those readers who sometimes grumble that men cannot write convincing women need to read The Forever Watch – I loved Hana’s character. She is sympathetic, vulnerable and highly intelligent without coming across as arrogant or geeky, which is far harder to pull off than Ramirez makes it look. And caring about Hana is vital, as we need to be firmly in her corner as she starts on her journey of uncovering the mystery lurking in the bowels of Noah. She encounters the police enforcer, Barrens, who rescues her from a horrible situation and they strike up an unlikely friendship. It is Barrens who pulls her into his search for the criminal who shredded his colleague and mentor. He is convinced there is a high-level conspiracy operating to cover up the vicious killings and although she is initially dubious, Hana gradually finds herself in agreement with Barrens.
The first section of the book is taut with the growing sense of insecurity as Hana increasingly feels that all the safe, everyday details of her life is a hollow disguise, as a merciless criminal strikes with impunity throughout the ship. I was completely caught up in the storyline, though my enjoyment was tempered by a niggling fear. I’ve never read anything else by Ramirez, and when an author creates such a tense, fearful atmosphere, he has to ensure that the denouement fully delivers. After steadily building up this shocking, terrible secret – it had to be HUGE…
So does he deliver? Oh yes. The whole book is superbly crafted, with the climax and final denouement leaving me with tears in my eyes. It all completely hung together and was every bit as shocking as was hinted at throughout. Even if you are not in the habit of reading science fiction, yet love mystery thrillers – get hold of The Forever Watch. It is a storming debut and I shall be looking out for this author’s next book. Ramirez is One To Watch.