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Feb 2013
Jack Glass - Adam Roberts - Gollancz, 2012
* * *
SF novels that are police procedurals are two-a-penny, but how many can you name that are classic locked-room or Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries? For me, the list is embarrassingly short - Isaac Asimov's Robot trilogy (The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn) are the only ones that come immediately to mind. I don't think this is just my ignorance. SF whodunnits are relatively rare, which is a shame and a little puzzling because structurally these genres are well suited to each other. As with police procedurals, the investigatory aspect of a murder mystery allows the author to dump the background for their constructed world in a relatively non-painful way for the reader, particularly if the detective is an outsider themselves. And SF tropes, if properly introduced, will surely permit some interesting new variations on the mechanics of the murder and the motivations of the suspects. Even the readership is ready-made - anyone up for some science fictional mind expansion will surely also enjoy the lateral thinking required to solve a good puzzle (although not necessarily vice versa).

Adam Roberts has clearly noticed this, because he has come up with SF takes on no less than three different styles of mystery - a prison story, a stately home murder and a locked room puzzle - all with a common planet-spanning background. They are not whodunnits, however. We are told in the first couple of pages that the murderer in each case is the notorious criminal, Jack Glass. The challenge to the reader is to work out how. Which is Roberts' first mistake.
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