Crime Fiction


Mixing of genres

Tom Sweterlitsch is a writer who combines the genres of crime fiction and sci-fi in a very compelling way…
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“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day”.
William Shakespeare: “Macbeth”, Act 5, Scene 5.

When you read a book, be it crime fiction or any other kind of fiction, you frequently find that several genres have been mixed. For example: crime in a historical setting, or a comedy crime caper, or a romantic mystery. Or there are political thrillers. It's always fun to try to spot all the genres and all the allusions.

I like reading all sorts of books, among them, obviously, crime fiction (hence me being a member of this fun group). But I also like sci-fi and I have recently discovered a writer who combines crime and sci-fi in a very compelling manner – Tom Sweterlitsch.

His second book was briefly reviewed in this blog a few months ago. The Gone World was a rather frightening novel about what could happen to us in the not-too-distant future, combined with an investigation into the gruesome murder of a whole family. It was also a very good book, although a dense and complicated read, but it was ultimately rewarding.

So, when I was given this author’s debut novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, as a Christmas present, I was rather excited.

I will not give much away if I quote – slightly paraphrased - the blurb on the back: “Ten years after the dirty bomb attack which reduced Pittsburgh to ashes, all that remains is the Archive: an interactive digital record of the city and its people. Tom Dominic Blaxton is a ‘lucky one’. He survived the blast, but, crippled by the loss of his wife and unborn daughter, his days are spent immersed in the Archive with his ghosts. His job is to trace and view all deaths in the Archive for insurance claims, to determine if the death occurred as a result of the bomb or from other causes. And in the Archive, he finds a forgotten body - an anonymous woman. Who was this woman? And why is someone hacking the system to delete her seemingly unremarkable life? He tries to trace her and in doing so the nightmare which has been his life for 10 years suddenly moves from the past to the present.”

The story is set sometime in the not-very-distant future and revolves around Dominic, a deeply depressed man and a drug addict, and his attempt to discover the identity of this woman by immersing himself in the digital Archive. At the same time, he’s trying to find the digital imprint of another woman, who also perished in the blast (this last at the behest of her very rich father). Or is this second woman really a different woman?? Dominic also spends an unhealthy amount of time reliving his life with his dead wife.

The writing style is quite abrupt, of the private eye variety and very high-tech, slanted with many references to a digital network called Adware, which everybody has had implanted in their brains. The name says what it is.

Now, I feel that for a blog like this to work I have to be honest and describe the books as they are, warts and all. And sadly, this book has more warts than I would like. I was a bit disappointed, actually. Mostly because the story really is just a one-idea concept – the Archive and its use – embellished with a lot of techno-speak. Really a cyberpunk story.

Apart from the techno-speak it is also, in places, quite unpleasant. Not just scary, which it is, but actually unpleasant, sadomasochistic and pornographic. It’s also quite an uneven book, some of it is good and makes sense, and made me want to read on to see what happened to our sad and unhappy hero. But some of it is almost incomprehensible, and so convoluted that I nearly lost interest.

In my view it’s not a match for his second book The Gone World. But having said that, it does have its good points and maybe I’m just not its target audience. I have a feeling, though, that, like The Gone World, it will stay with me.

Just for fun I looked up to see how many times a part of Macbeth’s famous speech has been used in literature. At least a dozen times or more, is how often. As titles of crime fiction, sci-fi books and literary works, in poems, included in song lyrics and even as the title of an old episode of Star Trek.

So, there you have it. Not an easy or pleasant book, really, but maybe worth the effort.

Oundle Library’s Crime Fiction Book Group meets on the third Friday of each month @ 2.30pm at Oundle Library. We don’t consider ourselves a formal book group because we don’t work through a reading list. We just pick a reading ‘theme’ each month, which is entirely optional. At our meetings we chat about whatever we’ve read, and swap notes about the books and authors we enjoy. It’s been a great way for everyone to find new authors to try. If you think it sounds fun, why not join us? You’ll be very welcome.