The Big Sleep meets Dean Koontz in Bear’s first big leap into mainstream fiction after a lifetime of high-grade SF (Darwin’s Children, 2003, etc.).
Bear fans know that he can outwrite nearly all SF competitors and go so deep into science that few readers can follow his hallucinatory devising. Styled with light-struck immediacy, Dead Lines is as intensely seen and free of clichés as the best Koontz when that polymath downplays the gore. Bear adapts the big death theme and scenic format of Chandler’s LA masterpiece, substituting for Chandler’s gumshoe a burned-out softcore movie director hired by an ailing and infirm half-billionaire to unlock certain, well, psychic secrets the old guy in his vast mansion needs to know about his soul. Or maybe about his young wife’s weirder side. Mr. Joseph Benoliel wants Peter to ask the respected spiritualist Sandaji whether “someone can live without a soul.” Before Sandaji can answer Peter, she faints, having seen a ghostly figure beside him. As we find out midway through, Peter’s young twin daughter Daniella was murdered and left under leaves in Griffith Park. After the murder, Peter fell adrinking, and his wife Helen moved out with their other daughter, Lindsey. Now he’s been sober 18 months. One night he finds Lindsey asleep in Daniella’s old bed—only later it turns out to have been Daniella. Meanwhile, he’s been hired to publicize Trans, a new talking device that fantastically outclasses any cell phone. In fact, it works on a subatomic bandwidth and can handle infinite amounts of information. It also attracts the dead. That’s enough plot, if not too much already. With strong characters and heartfelt dialogue, Dead Lines (phones to the afterworld) is well on its way to being a suspense classic when current genre demands find Bear bending, twisting, and forcing his understated story through commercial hoops, with a big, gory and ghastly ending.
The final close, though, is a quiet-as-dust epilogue.