It’s a nearish-future world in Adam Roberts’ latest novel ‘The Real-Town Murders’, wherein a large proportion of people spend a large proportion of their time in the Shine, an immersive Internet/virtual reality world where everything is better and more convenient than the Real-Town. For those like Alma, a private detective who specialises in Real-Town sleuthing, they can still be connected to a world that has become a supersaturated Internet-of-things and can access online information instantaneously.
The deserted streets that this begets lend a strangely eerie backdrop to Alma’s investigations as she tries to find out how a dead body ended up in the boot of a brand-new car while still on the fully-automated production floor. She soon becomes involved in a power-play between various government factions.
Alma is an interesting character who spends little time in the Shine but soon realises how dependant on her feed she is when she is forced to go on the run and cut her connection to the virtual world. There are some great secondary characters to whom she meets up with at various points, conspiracy theorists, hackers and government agents, all of whom, despite the technological advancements and the trappings of the cyber world, are immediately familiar types, demonstrating that human nature remains constant whatever the setting.
One of the consequences of Alma’s divorce from the on-line Real-Town is that she can no longer check references and definitions and she quickly realises that everyone’s speech is littered with literary and historical references. This makes an interesting game for the reader, too, attempting to parse and divine all of the little jokes and quotes that Adam Roberts has thrown in along the way.
To add to the interest, characters who spend much of their time on-line find real-life speech difficult so that several conversations consist of stammering and stuttering and the breaking of words into individual syllables replaced with homophonous single-syllable words. It’s quite fun to follow the convoluted and sometimes rambling speech.
The basic plot of the book follows Alma’s investigations into the miraculously-appearing dead body, with a secondary investigation into a mysteriously skinny man. It doesn’t take long for the powers-that-be to interfere and make this more of an action adventure than a detective tale, with the added interest of the aforementioned scarcity of an awake populace. The extra ingredient that ramps up the tension is that Alma is tied in to the medical care of Marguerite, who must be treated every four hours, due to complex reasons or face a swift death.
This means that no matter what is happening, Alma must break off to get home, whether or not she is under arrest, being pursued by the government, stuck in hospital or any of a number of precarious situations. This breaks the story into a series of four-hour dramas that keep up a lively pace right to the end of the book.
This is probably the most fun Adam Roberts book I’ve read up till now and there is more apparently in the works which I am already looking forward to.
Gareth D Jones
(pub: Orion Books. 230 page hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-47322-145-1)
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk