I enjoy my whodunits and I love science fiction, so it was a no-brainer that I would request an arc for this far future murder mystery.
After a five year sabbatical following the tragic death of his wife and fellow agent Alysha, Keona Rause returns to the distant colony world of Magenta to resume service with the Magentan Intelligence Service. With him he brings an artificial recreation of his wife’s personality, a simulacrum built from every digital trace she left behind. She has been constructed with one purpose – to discover the truth behind her own death – but Keona’s relationship with her has grown into something more, something frighteningly dependent, something that verges on love. Cashing in old favours, Keona uses his return to the Service to take on a series of cases that allow him and the artificial Alysha to piece together his wife’s last days. His investigations lead him inexorably along the same paths Alysha followed five years earlier, to a sinister and deadly group.
This noir thriller has a wonderful setting – the planet Magenta has an unfriendly, heavy gravity and terrible weather, to the extent that buildings are more like bunkers in order to survive the terrible storms and the only transport system is an underground railway. Peters’ scene setting is spot on, establishing the mood music of this classy murder mystery – an important component in noir crime. The protagonist is also suitably moody with a full suite of emotional luggage on account of his wife’s death – it has haunted him that although the person who actually set off the bomb was brought to justice, the conspiracy behind the crime was never fully uncovered. In a desperate attempt to try to uncover Alysha’s last movements – Rause has no idea why she cleaned out their bank account and what she was doing on the train in the first place – he has Liss constructed, based on every scrap of information he possesses about Alysha. However, this leaves him with a construct who looks, sounds and acts like his dead wife – so five years on he is no closer to coming to terms with his loss.
It’s a great premise. Peters drops us in the middle of this world, which I really loved – though initially I slightly struggled with the welter of unfamiliar names, though by the time I was 20% into the story, I had become sufficiently acclimatised to the world this was no longer a problem. And the reason for their unfamiliarity became apparent well before the end.
This police procedural is tightly constructed, with various clues and a number of suspects who are considered by Rause and his team. I also thoroughly enjoyed the cast of supporting characters – Rangesh, who has been undercover with the drugs squad, bounces off the page with his West Coast slang and his unorthodox fashion sense – Rause is rocked when he turns up for duty in a flamboyantly coloured caftan. Rangesh provides much of the welcome shafts of humour in amongst Rause’s gritted determination to discover what happened to his wife.
Alongside the murder mystery, Peters also raises the problem of how to grieve when technology can provide a replacement with a strong likeness to the dead person; there are also issues around the artefacts left behind by a powerful alien race as various powerful corporations race to try and uncover their secrets; Magenta is a colony world with a sudden influx of immigrants from Earth which is also causing resentment. Without losing pace or focus, we get an insight into these problems along with others bubbling under the surface that add to the texture and richness of this world. Peters’ unfussy style keeps things moving at a fair clip as the complex case of a series of drugs-related deaths cris-crosses the five-year-old bombing incident. Like many noir thrillers, this is one where you need to pay attention or you’ll miss something vital. Indeed at the end, I found myself backtracking to ensure I fully understood what was going on, as the denouement unspooled with something of a rush and it took me a couple of goes before I worked out all the ramifications – though I’ll freely admit I wasn’t at my shiny best at the time.
I was heartened to note there are plenty of dangling plotpoints, which I’m hoping will mean there will be a second book set in this world – and if there is, then I’ll be tracking it down. This is a world I very much want to dive back into.
While I obtained the arc of From Darkest Skies from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.