Another detective joins the celebrated ranks of Edinburgh's finest, this one with Stross' distinctive science-fictional twist.
Set in the same universe as Halting State (2007) ten years on, the narrative advances several points of view, each written in the same eye-watering second-person present tense; it's supposed to feel like you're inhabiting several avatars in an online computer game—fine, but what if you just want to read a book? Murder is rare in Edinburgh, and the case of an ex-con spammer murdered apparently by bad drugs and a defective machine seems bizarre in the extreme, but DI Liz Kavanaugh soon notices similarities with other equally weird cases in Germany and Italy. And soon Euro-cop Kemal Aslan arrives with other examples. A second Edinburgh victim turns up, a shady accountant shrink-wrapped to a bed of obsolete currency. Meanwhile, the Toymaker, a (literally) psychotic enforcer and facilitator for a criminal network, the Organization, arrives to houseclean the current incompetent staff and recruit some fresh talent. First on his list of potential new hires is Liz's first victim, and the second—you guessed it. In a nearby pub, informatics professor Adam MacDonald, aka the Gnome, inventor of a spam-killer app called ATHENA, talks desperate ex-con hacker Anwar Hussein into becoming consular representative for a bankrupt ex-Soviet splinter republic—the sort of business the newly independent Scottish Euro-state is happy to encourage. Anwar's duties involve distributing free bread mix kits—and providing assistance to a certain John Christie, the Toymaker's current identity. Somehow, Stross ties it all together inside one of the most intelligently and philosophically detailed near-futures ever conceived, although at times the eyes of all but the most well-informed reader will glaze over.
Dazzling, chilling and brilliant.