In the first installment of Hammond (KOP Killer, 2016, etc.) and Viola’s (Blackstar, 2015, etc.) new sci-fi series, a detective on Mars searches for her grandfather, who she thought died 20 years ago.
Human Denver Moon, 31, is a first-generation Martian—born on the Mars colony that her late grandfather Tatsuo co-founded. Her current investigation involves an outbreak of red fever, a mysterious sickness that often turns the infected into raving, homicidal lunatics. In just the last two days, “the feve” has inexplicably targeted 11 of Mars’ original settlers. She works the case with her always-accommodating artificial-intelligence system, Smith, which Denver long ago gave Tatsuo’s memories. Smith discovers an encrypted message from her grandfather, declaring that Mars is in danger and urging his granddaughter to find him. His former partner, Cole Hennessey, the Founder and Peerless Leader of the Church of Mars, insists that he witnessed Tatsuo’s death personally. A skeptical Denver investigates, beginning by having Smith hack into Jericho, the local terraforming project, to scan the red planet for places where her grandfather may have hidden himself for two decades. She’s clearly making someone nervous, though, as she later narrowly avoids a murder attempt. As Denver digs deeper, she gradually exposes a conspiracy that could affect all of Mars’ inhabitants. This short novel boasts prime sci-fi tech ingredients; for example, Denver mentally converses with Smith, which she’s installed in her gun, and she also gets assistance from Nigel, a botsie (robot). The mystery is packed with sometimes-dubious characters. Denver is the most colorful, even if she is totally colorblind—a hereditary trait that makes her immune to red fever. Smith, however, is also engaging, particularly in its hints of human qualities, such as a preference for leather holsters. Sparkling prose animates the inanimate throughout: “One of the freezer chest’s hinges tore free, bolts shooting off like bullets.” The book ends with a prequel short story, “Denver Moon: Metamorphosis,” in which Denver works a case of “robocide” that ultimately ties into the novel’s main plot.
A searing mystery with a superlative, gun-toting protagonist.