Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I just finished The City & The City by China Mieville.

(Spoiler alert)

Mieville's latest novel is, at heart, a hardboiled detective/police procedural style mystery. The setting is what sets it apart, at puts it with one foot in the SF field. The protagonist works in a strange city in the Balkans that has become mentally bifurcated. Some people live in Beszel and some live in Ul Qoma, though they are physically co-located. Both sets of citizens are trained from birth to ignore the other city and its populace unless they cross between them through a border crossing. Inadvertent, and intentional, illegal crossings are investigated by a feared and mysterious group known as Breach. When a foreign student is killed in one city and dumped in the other, the resulting investigation threatens to undermine the whole setup.

The weird setup gives it the feel of a SF novel, without actually involving any fantasy or SF elements. And overall, the mystery elements work. There are the standard sinister businessmen, threatening thugs and people who want to shut down the investigation, but they all feel fresh enough in the telling to work. The climax of the novel is a little of a let down, but this kind of mystery is more about the process then it is about the solution. The most similar mysteries are probably Martin Cruz Smith's Renko novels.

Overall it's nice to read a Mieville novel that is not set in the same world as most of his fantasy novels. This one is not as disturbing to read as some of his others, more like a middle ground between the feel of Perdido Street Station and his YA novel Un Lun Dun.

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