You might know from my reviews of another Angry Robot alumnus, Chris Holm, that I kind of love the hardboiled pulp mystery fiction by the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. This is basically exactly that… except you add a robot and his equally electronic handler, Ada; the robot has a limited 24-hour memory because his memory’s on tapes; and the electronic handler has a prime directive of “profit” and nothing to keep her on the straight and narrow.
There’s an interesting story in the background, too: Ray discovering what he does during what are essentially blackouts; the whole background with Ada and Ray’s creator; the manipulations of Ray’s memory by Ada; Ray’s discovery that he’s being used as a murder weapon… Wisely, I think, this fascinating stuff is kept as background. It keeps you wondering what exactly Ada’s up to, it means you know about Ray’s limited memory and how he can be manipulated, but it focuses on an immediate mystery and leaves all that background to keep you wondering and coming up with your own red herrings.
Adam Christopher doesn’t quite have the style and originality of Chandler (there’s no phrases like “shop-worn Galahad” to delight the senses), but the writing is slick and functional in the best way. I read the whole thing in just over an hour, without stopping, without ever catching up on a snag that made me want to stop. He uses the robot nature of his protagonist in great ways to add detail, uses the limitations of the character to convey expressions and emotions. The robot technology is also kept at just the right level: sure, Ray can take pictures using his eyes, but they’re stored on film and he only has four rolls of film at a time. Ada runs on tapes. The technology is clunky, old-fashioned.
The plot itself is classic and I’m not gonna spoil it by giving you any clues. There’s some staples of pulp fiction here, though, and it’s good for a knowing smile, makes you want to wear a trenchcoat and a natty hat.