In this debut sci-fi/mystery novel, the latest case for a detective in a dystopian future entails magic, interdimensional aliens, and, quite possibly, vampires.
Tom Holliday’s recruitment into the newly launched Special Crimes Unit is primarily due to his gift. The investigator, who transferred from the Empire City Police Department, uses a supernatural perception that he calls the Insight to close cases. That’s just what retired ECPD Capt. Bill Mahoney needs as head of the SCU—“to solve the unsolvable and inexplicable by any means necessary.” Holliday’s first case involves the body of Vanessa Mallery, completely drained of blood by, according to eyewitnesses, a vampire. The detective’s SCU partner is Deacon Kole, a former Protector (law enforcer) from the Confederate States of Birmingham, one of 52 worldwide enclaves in existence after a nuclear calamity and pandemics ravaged Earth years ago. Holliday and Kole team up with Besim Saranda, a female Vellan; her alien race abandoned its war-devastated world from a parallel dimension to take refuge on human-inhabited Earth. While Holliday readily accepts Vellans and furthermore believes in magic, he’s certain vampires don’t exist. But finding the killer won’t be easy: Cameras at the murder scene were inexplicably disabled, and the two witnesses were high on a hallucinatory drug called Goldjoy. And there’s evidently more to the case than potential vampirism, including a drug lord and baddies meticulously cleaning crime scenes, leaving behind a perceptible lemon scent. Holliday and company will encounter a slew of dangerous individuals as well as a few more bodies before it’s all over.
Hartog deftly fuses genres in this entertaining series opener. The novel is first and foremost sci-fi, with a thoroughly detailed future Earth and inventive tech, like Holliday’s new DNA-bonded Superior Military Armament Retaliatory Tool gun that only he can operate. But the story’s tone owes more to classic hard-boiled fiction: Holliday has a dark past (he was once addicted to Goldjoy); the rain never seems to let up; and Kole rarely appears without a smoldering cigarette. Although Holliday is most assuredly not a cynical detective, he’s unquestionably appealing. For example, his nickname, Doc, is not from Wyatt Earp’s gunslinging pal but rather from the investigator’s Ph.D. in classical literature. Moreover, Holliday’s first-person narration is unabashed and often charming: “I’m not afraid of heights, but I do maintain a healthy respect for anything that might get me killed, like angry ex-boyfriends, or falling from a hundred-plus story building.” Other characters shine as well, such as Leyla, Holliday’s shrewd hacker friend, who, as it happens, is capable of magic. As the narrative progresses, the supernatural elements increase, from a fetch, a parasitic “shadow creature,” to an especially formidable man who, through a combination of magic and technology, doesn’t go down easy. The SCU’s case does eventually turn conspiratorial, particularly with the identity of an initially unknown villain named Orpheus, which is a significant twist. Nevertheless, based on the cliffhanger ending, that’s a plot turn that the author plans on picking up in the next series installment.
A riveting multigenre tale with sharply drawn characters in a striking futuristic world.