(Gollancz, £14.99, 503 pages, hardback, published 25 November
2004. Gollancz, £6.99, 532 pages, paperback edition published 3
In 1959 Paris, musician Floyd Wendell and his
Custine, work as musicians and moonlight as detectives. It isn't an
easy living, especially with the forces of Fascism, dormant since the
defeat of Germany in 1940, on the rise again. Summoned to investigate
the murder of a young woman, Susan White, in which the police show profound
disinterest, he finds himself stumbling slowly into a world of bizarre
behaviour, mysterious technology, and queasily evil people.
Meanwhile, in the mid-twenty-third century, Verity Auger, an ambitious
archeologist, makes a lethal error as she leads her team in their investigations
of a ruined Paris which lies under an ice-cap infested with murderous
nano-tech. Hauled up before a disciplinary tribunal her prospects look
bad, until some political acquaintances make a proposition; take a trip
to an undisclosed destination and track down a fellow archeologist,
by the name of Susan White, who's gone missing, and they'll kill the
This is the intriguing opening of a solid, well crafted and at times
very imaginative piece of science fiction. Initially it's the Floyd/1959
plot-line that feels more compelling; its challenges possess a veneer
of contemporary realism that Auger's futuristic milieu doesn't quite
have, but the weaving together of the two strands is deftly done. When
the two stories meet and merge there are a couple of hundred pages of
genuinely compelling prose.
This portion of the book, the middle, is the best bit, and the reason
isn't hard to find. It's the bad guys. Reynolds has managed to create
some thoroughly nasty little monsters, genuinely creepy and threatening,
and consequently there's some really gripping tension.
It's not something that he can quite sustain, unfortunately, and the
challenges of the last third of the book, though they are violent and
explosively flashy, don't have the viscerally threatening, frightening,
quality of what's gone before. Moreover, at this stage of the book Reynolds
seems content to step away from Auger and Floyd as individuals, and
watch them as a duo, from an external position, rather than dip into
their heads and sample their emotions and perceptions from the inside.
It's still good writing, but it lacks some of the intimacy of the earlier
Overall then, this is good work. Not top flight, but engaging, well-written,
worth taking the time to read.
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