This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
23.08.18 / Gollancz / Futuristic Murder-Mystery / Hardback / 272pp / 978-1473221499
Target Audience: Readers who enjoy a combination of sci-fi and murder-mystery. Bold themes and interesting concepts weaved into a intriguing narrative.
About By The Pricking Of Her Thumb
One of the four richest people in the world may be dead. But which one?
A Kubrickian thriller from one of the world’s leading authors of SF.
Private Investigator Alma is caught up in another impossible murder. One of the world’s four richest people may be dead – but nobody is sure which one. Hired to discover the truth behind the increasingly bizarre behaviour of the ultra-rich, Alma must juggle treating her terminally ill lover with a case which may not have a victim.
Inspired by the films of Kubrick, this stand-alone novel returns to the near-future of THE REAL-TOWN MURDERS, and puts Alma on a path to a world she can barely understand. Witty, moving and with a mystery deep at its heart, this novel again shows Adam Roberts’ mastery of the form.
I thought the stakes were high in Real-Town Murders but Adam Roberts has gone next level with By The Pricking Of Her Thumb and I couldn’t get enough! This can be read as a standalone but I do recommend reading R-TM as well because it is definitely worth picking up as it is another kick-ass murder-mystery.
Private Investigator Alma is back with several new cases that push her ability to solve, earn, love and live to the very limits. Recruited by the police to solve the seemingly impossible murder of Alexa Lund, with only a needle through her thumbnail as a possible cause of death. Alma is also contacted by Jupita, member of an elusive and infinitely wealthy collective know as the Fab Four. Each member has accumulated vast fortunes through their combined pursuit of ‘absolute wealth’, a status that can only be achieved in Shine. Shine is the immersive virtual reality replacement to the internet in which most people now mentally reside, ignoring the real world and its limited possibilities.
Jupita believes one of the four has been murdered and replaced with an impostor. She does not know if a murder has actually taken place or who it might be but she is willing to pay to find out. Alma thinks its a dead end case but money is an issue for her. Looking after her partner Rita, who every 4 hours and 4 minutes will die unless Alma treats a pathology that’s both fatal and randomised, is overwhelming expensive. So compelled by love and putting a dent in their extensive debt, she accepts the job.
Cast into the world of breathtaking wealth and manipulation, where the secrets are worth killing to protect, the pressure is on to find answers and get paid. On her travels she meets an eccentric gentleman who is obsessed with the works of Stanley Kubrick. The man who calls himself Stanley is Alma’s biggest fan and wants to show her another murder mystery that has been overlooked for so long. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Alma must fight back to save everything she holds dear.
By The Pricking of Her Thumb is an exceptionally cool sci-fi murder mystery; a technological whodinnit that is simultaneously a howdunnit with an intellectual and emotionally charged central character that makes this series even more gripping than before. Alma is smart, stubborn, cynical and observant in her job and charming, passionate and fearsome in her relationship. There are so many dimensions to her character and this narrative really does test them all to an almost destructive level. I was wondering why Roberts would have a lead character that was so confined by her partner’s illnesses that she could barely function in her life but it totally adds an inspired depth and detail not only to Alma’s character but to the type of future that AR is trying to portray.
I really enjoyed Alma and Rita’s relationship which also gives vibes of Sherlock and Watson, though with so much more emotional turmoil. Rita’s near death moments punctuate the developments of the story and increase the stress and stakes of Alma’s success. I also like the fact that Alma doesn’t use Shine as it is a much needed prompt to the over-reliance we have on our technology. Interacting with the Fab Four was another stand out element to this novel. Each member producing a unique yet relevant idea on the monetization of humanity which is scary when you think about it. Their pursuit of infinite wealth is an interesting avenue of a story which AR makes full use of.
There is a lot to enjoy about this novel, especially in its technological (loads of cool tech) and thought provoking nature. Adam Roberts is dedicated to science fiction and his understanding of the genre is fascinating. I would say that lay people might get slightly flustered by some of the grander concepts in the novel, I was anyway, but AR does a charming job of off-setting his obvious intellect with pleasant nerdiness and plenty of wacky vocabulary.
AR is all about influences and inspirations with this series. Combining satisfying pop culture references with a deeper appreciation and celebration of unforgettable visionaries like Christie, Hitchcock, Kubrick and Conan Doyle. All together with his own brilliant take on science-fiction worlds and radical murder-mystery plots makes for some seriously great reading. I wasn’t feeling the Kubrick section that takes place during the second act but AR managed to convince me otherwise by the end. That section is also hands down the most emotional VR experience I think has been put to page so far. It is just one example of how this novel is unlike anything I have ever read.
AR’s imagination is addictive. Crafting a setting that is as surreal as it is absolutely possible. The near future Britain this story takes place in is eerily close to what we can expect to happen in the coming years. Writing dialogues, interactions and set pieces that are as sophisticated as they are bonkers or charming. AR isn’t afraid to include plenty of satire and parody as well which was excellent. The Kry Twins had me in bits with their but they were also a dark point to the story too. I was excited about Real-Town Murders but By The Pricking Of Her Thumb was even more ambitious and it pays off.
The central themes are implemented and developed well. The most prevalent being the power of money, or more specifically currency. It is a hugely relevant subject, now more than ever, and AR takes the time and exploration it needs. It was interesting to see an author so dedicated to enriching a theme that it almost becomes a character in the story. The other main theme of this novel is time, both in perception and scarcity, and it was interesting to see AR’s own take on that particular subject. Would it ever be possible to actually explore that idea to its completion? I’m not going to elaborate but SF lovers are going to have such a blast with the dynamics and technology explored within these pages. The never-ending AI debate is included here too but its involvement is refreshingly concise yet meaningful.
I like how refined yet still incredibly ambitious AR’s sci-fi writing has become. Delivering a solid and accessible technological thriller that caters to crime buffs, SF enthusiasts, thriller aficionados and readers who like compelling love stories as well. Adam Roberts is finding new ways to surprise and hook in his readers and I am just enjoying the ride. This novel totally changed the dynamic of the series so I have no idea what to expect if there are more instalments to come. If there are then I am ready to read them.
About Adam Roberts
Adam Roberts is commonly described as one of the UK’s most important writers of SF. He is the author of numerous novels and literary parodies. He is Professor of 19th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, London University and has written a number of critical works on both SF and 19th Century poetry. He is a contributor to the SF ENCYCLOPEDIA