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"Cries of the Lost" by Chris Knopf

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This is an amazingly fun spy caper without any spies. I was at a disadvantage not having read the prequel, but it was nothing crippling, because Cries of the Lost stands really well on its own. Dead Anyway (2012) was a finalist for the 2013 Nero Award, named for Rex Stout’s clever detective, Nero Wolf. Cries of the Lost follows the adventures of Arthur and Natsumi after the death of Arthur’s wife at the hands of a person or persons unknown, and combines enough elements of a mystery and those of a thriller, to be really excellent escapist fare. Throw in the wisecracking protagonist duo, and you have quite a delightful confection.

Arthur Cathcart cannot leave a mystery alone, and he constantly puts himself and his girlfriend Natsumi in harm’s way and back out in the nick of time. Behind it all is a somewhat confusing feud between onetime antagonists in the Basque separatist movement. The FBI and possibly the NSA think Arthur
is a member of a Basque terrorist group, when all he wants to do bring an end to the conflict and an end to the mortal danger to himself and Natsumi. It’s all done at a mile a minute, as the pair duck and weave their way from Grand Cayman to the Côte d’Azur, to Aix-en-Provence and New York City. Throw in a crooked high-ranking FBI agent, and you start to get the idea.

The deepest theme you’ll find here is the corrosive nature of ancient enmity, and a hatred the principals won’t let go. Our central couple is quite endearing, cute really, in their devotion, to each other, and electronic gizmos and hi-tech cloak-and-dagger methods are front and center.

This is a fine romp, which will divert you in ways that are well worth your time. I’m sorry I missed the first in the series. I’m not sure what follows, but the plot ends with all sorts of potential for further fun storytelling. Judging from this single entry, you can depend on this author to deliver the goods.

“The Map of Time” by Félix J. Palma

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Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor. I don’t know how often or how assiduously you have tried to make sense of time-travel conundrums. If, like me, you still struggle with the paradoxes inherent in traveling through time, don’t look to Félix J. Palma’s The Map of Time to help you out. It doesn’t offer solutions, but generally delicious and delightful new possibilities of time travel, starring none other than H.G. Wells, the author of The Time Machine (1895). Imagine Christopher Lloyd’s mad Dr. Emmett Brown frenetically covering all the implications of traveling back and forth in time – but at a more studious pace – but with nary a solution in sight. In fact we end with more questions than answers. And the book is so much more because of it.

 Félix J. Palma wrote The Map of Time in the style of a nineteenth-century adventure story, very apparently admiring the style. The translation serves this purpose well, and never gets in the way. Maybe the time-travel puzzles which constantly pop up, or the occasional authorial intrusions, weigh against the style, but no matter. This is an enjoyable ride,
with wonderful descriptions of Victorian London, a very full biographical treatment of Wells (from which flights of fancy follow), and yes, some actual science fiction. My only quibble is that some characters disappear early and are brought back late in the story, as if by force. I found myself waiting for follow-up treatment of a couple of them, and my wait was in vain.

This book deserves some of the praise it’s received – it’s inventive and fun, and its characters come with full nuancing, but its leisurely treatment (611 pages) and shifting viewpoint bring down its grade.

“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.