One of the great joys in reading an Adam Roberts novel is the stuff that goes on in the background, behind the story he’s telling: the interweaving subtexts, subtle linguistic cues, shifting points of view, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em references that hint at the nature of complex world he’s created.
The Real-Town Murders is the story of a seemingly impossible murder, the private detective who’s hired to solve it, and an intricate conspiracy slowly revealed. It’s also, and I must preface this by saying emotion and tenderness in Roberts’ novels is sometimes overlooked by reviewers, a beautiful story of love and sacrifice.
Roberts builds his near-future world carefully, a little bit at a time, as though he’s assembling a jigsaw puzzle not in the traditional orderly method, by starting at the edges and working inwards, but by joining pieces together in twos and threes, some from this section of the puzzle and some from that section, until, slowly, the larger picture reveals itself. Unlike a lot of science-fiction writers, Roberts understands that it’s acceptable – and often desirable – to let the reader be momentarily confused about something. Like a mystery writer planting clues to a killer’s identity, Roberts plants clues to the nature of these beautiful worlds he creates (what’s this “Shine” thing everybody’s talking about?); and he reveals the worlds not through clunky exposition, but through narrative and dialogue.
It’s interesting to watch Roberts bring his substantial powers of imagination and world-building to the kind of story that usually relies on an orderly structure and a familiar formula (introduce mystery, provide clues, reveal solution). I’ve no doubt that Roberts could have written a straightforward mystery, and that it would have been good. But I don’t think he’d be comfortable with good. He’s never written a novel that was merely good. The Real-Town Murders is a typical murder mystery with many atypical ingredients; it’s something new and wonderful.
Copyright 2018 David Pitt