Book Review: Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Orbit (November 7, 2017)
Length: 448 pages
I can never resist a good mystery in space! Chris Brookmyre blends the science fiction and thriller-suspense genres to give us Places in the Darkness, a gritty crime noir type story set hundreds of miles above Earth. Our story begins with a murder, though those in charge on board the Ciudad de Cielo are very keen to keep the details of it quiet. Officially, the space station’s reputation is that of a crime-free utopia where everyone has a place and purpose, operating like a well-oiled machine. The reality, however, is much less appealing. There’s a reason why the people who live on the CdC call it “Seedee”, and it quickly becomes apparent why it’s more than an apt nickname. Like any city where people are packed so close together, the station has its problems, from petty smuggling and prostitution to gang violence and illegal fighting rings.
Enter Alice Blake, a young and brilliant federal national government representative newly arrived from Earth to overhaul the CdC’s security division. She is unsurprisingly greeted with much suspicion and dislike from the elite who have benefited all these years from the status quo. Unable to hide such a gruesome murder for long though, they reluctantly hand the investigation over to Alice, who requests to be paired up with an unscrupulous former LAPD investigator named Nikki Freeman, the only person on the station with the experience to catch a ruthless killer.
Best known for his crime thrillers, Brookmyre brings his good sense of timing for action and suspense to the science fiction genre. We are drawn immediately to this dark, dangerous world full of secrets and conspiracies. The plot itself begins at a careful and measured pace, ensuring readers are properly immersed in the wickedly alluring atmosphere of Seedee before ratcheting up to full-throttle action and twisty surprises. Before I knew it, I was completely sucked into this compelling tale, knowing it would soon escalate into something big and explosive.
And yet, we still had plenty of time to get to know our characters. I loved how we had two amazing female protagonists at the helm, both of whom made this book a much more memorable read with their fascinating backstories and strong narrative voices. Alice is an idealist, and a bit of a stickler for the rules and regulations. When she first arrives on the CdC, readers are given the sense she will either bring some much needed law and order to the space station, or be eaten alive by its cutthroat politics. On the other side of the coin, Nikki is a jaded ex-cop who is part of the rot that’s gnawing away at the heart of Seedee, representing all the crime and corruption that Alice hopes to bring an end to.
As the mystery deepens, we get to see how each character is affected by new information, thanks to the intimate look we get into their heads. That said, Alice and Nikki’s eventual partnership will become the crux of the novel itself, and that’s a lot of potential for interesting dynamics. The two women have no reason to like each other, for one; they come from very different backgrounds, and even their first meeting is one tainted with deception and lies. Consequently, Alice and Nikki spend the majority of the book distrusting one another, though ultimately, both realize they are working towards the same goal and that the future of Seedee will depend on whether they can put their differences aside and trust each other with their private fears.
Brookmyre gets you to feel invested in his characters, and makes you care about what happens to them. His background in crime fiction also shows through in the elaborate plotting of Places in the Darkness, which is his first science fiction novel but often reads like a murder mystery which includes elements of a political thriller. In this complex setting full of machinations and intrigue, half the fun is the experience of watching its secrets unfold before us, and the other half is immersing yourself in the incredible world and its characters. I would recommend this one to mystery-suspense and sci-fi fans alike.