Peter F. Hamilton

Subterranean Press, Eos/HarperCollins / 272 pages / May 2002

ISBN: 1931081549

It’s been with us since Edgar Allen Poe. We just can’t seem to shake that damned locked-room mystery. No matter what evasive manoeuvres we take, it appears to be following us into the 21st century. All right, this time it seems to be leading us into the future, and, yes, you’ll be happy enough to go, but it’s still an orangutan through the window. With some major, welcome differences.

A Quantum Murder brings the second instalment in the Greg Mandel trilogy, begun with the 1996 Mindstar Rising. Call it police procedural or even English parlour room mystery, but be ready for much more.

Applaud the return of Greg Mandel, military-trained psychic investigator and reluctant hero (all the best mysteries feature a detective who must be coaxed/coerced/trapped into taking on the case) and his strange circle of co-conspirators. Applaud only for politeness’ sake the reappearance of Julia Evans, world’s most wealthy teenager, the reason Greg is pulled in again, all-around wunderkind, and extremely annoying character. And, please, hold your applause for the soggy, feuding mess that used to be Earth.

Speaking of “mess,” I’d like a show of hands: Am I the only one driven to distraction by the overuse of the term “no messing” — translate that to “no %!#* ing” (insert your favourite profanity) — in this novel? You might never have noticed it, but now that I’ve pointed it out, it’s going to be sooooo annoying.

This time around, Mandel answers the plea to become involved in a murder investigation. The victim — one Edward Kitchener — has been butchered in his own bed, while the select group of students he mentored slept on, just down the hall. Why? And by whom? And was it because of his research? Event Horizon — read that Julia Evans — needs to know, and she needs to know fast.

And there are none better or faster than Greg Mandel. In a changed world, he is the new breed of private eye. On a planet reminiscent of J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, Mandel’s hot ride is a modified Land Rover. His firearm of choice: a stunshot. His nose for trouble: empathy and intuition. The doll on his arm: wife, Eleanor. His profession: citrus farming. Yeah, that cat Greg is a bad… Shut your mouth!… I’m talkin’ ’bout Greg. Dig it — he’s different and that makes him more dangerous than your standard hardboiled dick.

It would be a stretch to call A Quantum Murder action-packed, but the amount of action makes it more believable. THERE WILL BE NO CAR CHASE DURING THE READING OF A QUANTUM MURDER. The storyline slithers so many twists and turns, it will keep you guessing up ’til the end. (If you must try to guess the outcome, keep it to yourself. That is really obnoxious.) The technology is, of course, futuristic, but of a type that seems tantalisingly close.

The image of a civilisation razed, but clawing its way out of the mud, is a fascinating one. And sobering, too, if you can admit to yourself how possible that scenario is. It’s a cautionary tale. It’s a well-plotted mystery. It’s two, two, two treats in one.