Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review: "Duplicate Effort" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

It’s been a long, long time since I read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Star Wars: The New Rebellion, which is my first and only exposure up to this point with this author. I remember enjoying that book – it wasn’t particularly amazing, but it was definitely among the better offerings in the Bantam era of Star Wars books. I remember a good portion of the book being devoted to the investigation behind the bombing of the Senate building – and with Duplicate Effort I got a very similar vibe. This is the seventh book in Rusch’s Retrieval Artist series – best described as Law & Order/CSI in space. I’ve had no prior experience with this series before this book so I'll discuss not only what I thought about it but also how approachable it was. Like any good Law & Order episode, Duplicate Effort starts with a murder. But the science fiction trappings are in place from the very beginning, as this murder takes place in a domed city on the moon, in a park that is self cleaning (and therefore removing all evidence of the crime). Called to the scene is a recently returned-to-duty cop named Nyquist, and the last thing he really wants is to be involved in a high profile case – which is exactly what this murder is going to be. Because the woman who’s dead is reporter Ki Bowles, and she had just released the first in a new expose series uncovering the truth behind a prestigious law firm and its corrupt policies. The information she had been given about this law firm came from Miles Flint, a Retrieval Artist (who’s job is to find missing persons) – and now he’s worried that whomever targeted her may also target his family. And his family consists of the 13 year old clone of his dead daughter, as well as a group of other 15 year old clones of the same – all adopted and unaware that their lives may be at risk. Meanwhile, the senior officer of the law firm itself sets out to solve the murder – because he knows he will be high on the list of suspects. My first problem with Duplicate Effort is the fact that what I’ve described in the paragraph above takes over 200 pages to happen in the book. Earlier I described this book as being like Law & Order, but let’s be clear – it’s like the first half hour of that show dragged out so that you’re following nearly minute by minute the lives of the various characters (and there are more than I’ve already mentioned, like Nyquist’s reluctant partner, Flint’s lawer, the OTHER two dead bodies, the bodyguard suspect, the head of the moon police, the aliens…). I believe the murder happened in the morning, but I had no idea that this would take place over only a 24 hour period. My second problem is the fact that a lot of the characters seem to contemplate the same information, to the point that for the reader it gets repetitive. I understand that each character is going to think about the impacts of the murder and how the media is going to respond – but I don’t need to hear each of their thoughts on the subject. It just felt like it was unnecessarily slowing down the novel. Because there are lots of good things about the book as well. I had hoped that it would be fairly easy to join this series even though it’s book #7 – and it was. Each character’s motivations are well spelled out, even their prior histories through what I assume are the previous books are effectively introduced in this story without becoming info dumps. The characters are also well developed, with strong personality traits easily differentiating them. Flint’s 13 year old daughter Talia acts like a teenager; strong willed, a little rebellious, but also looking for her father’s approval. As we get to see the investigation from different sides, the reader actually begins to see the larger picture before the characters in the book do. Talia and her sister clones are actually a key part of the murder – 15 years ago (when Flint’s daughter died and when the first clones were made) there were power outages reported throughout the Moon dome – strange occurrences that no one was ever able to explain. Now those same power fluctuations are happening again – only the people with each piece of this puzzle aren’t currently working together to solve the case. The title seems derived from this idea – duplicate effort both in terms of these multiple parties all working separately to solve the same mystery, and also in terms of the clones being duplicates – created in an effort to avoid punishment mandated by an alien law, one that has now come back to haunt those who weren’t responsible for the crime committed. I can’t say that I strongly recommend Duplicate Effort, but I also wouldn’t call it a failure either. I think I would have preferred a book in this setting to be styled a little more pulpy, a little quicker with more action and suspense. But that’s not what this book (or I assume this series) is – it is a strongly detailed detective novel in a near-future setting, as realistic as a science fiction novel about law enforcement can be. I’m certain there’s an audience for this type of book, but don’t go into it expecting Space Opera. I do think Rusch a very capable author, and this book seems to fit well into my prior experience with her writing. I think by now you should be able to tell if this is a book you would enjoy, but as for myself I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this series.

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