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Difficult Trick, Performed Well
|Writing a science-fiction mystery is a task difficult
to do well -- either you get too involved in the SF aspects, and slight the
mystery (or, worse yet, make the mystery impossible to legitimately solve
because it turns on things that don't yet exist), or you concentrate on keeping
the mystery scrupulously fair to the reader and wind up killing the Sense
of Wonder that is essential to SF.
Usually SF Mysteries are Good Mysteries but Mediocre SF or Good SF but only
Middling Mysteries... or, worst of all, Bad Mysteries and Worse SF.
Which brings us to Lee Killough, who has quite nicely performed the trick
three times (though i must say that the second of the three novels here reprinted
is the weakest of the three, it is by no means a Bad Story).
Part of the equation in a story like this is to create a viewpoint character
the reader will enjoy following and through whose eyes the society and background
of the story will be presented, and Killough's Janna Brill and her aggravating
partner, "Mama" Maxwell fit the bill perfectly.
Janna and Mama are "lions" ("LEOs" -- "Law Enforcement Officers", in an example
of the plausible future slang that Killough uses just enough of to give a
sense of time and place, but not enough to require a glossary or footnotes),
in a time when cops can no longer carry lethal weapons, when the
internal-combustion engine has been outlawed and when giant ramjet starships
carry colonists in suspended animation to new lives on distant worlds.
And when the SCIB Card -- a universal ID card -- has supposedly made it
impossible to avoid leaving a paper trail of your day-to-day life that documents
where you've been and when you were there.
And it's the death of a partner in a firm that specialises in outfitting
colonial companies that drives the first story, in which we first meet our
intrepid heroes. Mama is sure that killer is the dead man's partner... but
his card records prove he was nowhere near the scene of death at the time
of the crime.
In the end, justice is served and the stories all reach a satisfying conclusion.
((Incidentally, based on the three books from them i have so far, i would
pretty much recommend automatically buying anything you see with the Meisha