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“The City & The City” by China Miéville

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There are cities in Europe, like Berlin and Budapest, (and presumably elsewhere) that have suffered schisms, or have histories of division. In The City & The City China Miéville carries this theme to an extreme, and in the process gives the reader a highly diverting, atmospheric tour. Add in all the elements of an excellent whodunit-thriller, and you have the heady mix on offer.

The two Eastern European cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma have maintained a fragile coexistence for centuries. They occupy the same space in some sort higher plane in which motorists must avoid colliding with cars from the other city and hitting pedestrians inhabiting the other city, while completely denying their existence. It’s a quirky device beginning to end, to which the reader, even while buying the overall plot, never quite adjusts. And I think Mr. Miéville wants it exactly that way. It’s a tribute to his skill that you spend the whole read a little off balance.

So in the narrative veteran Besźel police detective Tyador Borlú tries to solve a murder and quickly gets tangled up in intercity and inter-dimensional vagaries: he’s forced to work with the police force of Ul Qoma, and relations are not always friendly and trust not always forthcoming, from either side. The two detectives bump and collide with
each other, and with the improbable truths, but finally begin to cooperate and address the wildly speculative possibility of yet another city sharing the same quantum space. We finish with a rewarding denouement, faithful in style and tone with what has gone before.

This extremely inventive novel portrays a present-day fantasy in cities steeped in wrenching geopolitics and lingering Soviet-era inefficiencies. The minutiae of detective work in this through-the-looking glass setup strike me as very believable; the pace is perfect; and the tension builds wonderfully. This book will satisfy anyone looking for an unusual detective story that’s presented in a wholly new and different way. It’s a commendable, interesting effort.
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