Chris Brookmyre – Places in the Darkness

As announced previously, my husband Wiebe is going to be contributing reviews more regularly. Chris Brookmyre’s Places in the Darkness is his first review on A Fantastical Librarian in a while.

This is as close to a city without crime as mankind has ever seen.

Ciudad de cielo is the city in the sky, a space station where hundreds of scientists and engineers work in earth orbit, building the colony ship that will one day take humanity to the stars.

When a mutilated body is found on the CdC, the eyes of the world are watching. Top-of-the-class investigator Alice Blake, is sent from earth to team up with CdC’s Freeman – a jaded cop with more reason than most to distrust such planetside interference.

As the death toll climbs and factions aboard the station become more and more fractious, Freeman and Blake will discover clues to a conspiracy that threatens not only their own lives but the future of humanity itself.

Based on the copy on the back of the book, I judged Places in the Darkness to be a detective novel set in space. From the rest of the cover I saw that this is not the first crime novel Chis Brookmyre has written. Writing crime in a completely fictional stetting is a hard thing to do. Not only do you have all the elements for your crime, you also have to explain the universe the story is set in. You need to split your focus and risk not doing a good job on one or both of these elements. 

The story is set in a near future space station, a successor to the international space station. It is run by an earth mega corporation, quadriga, consisting of the four largest companies on earth. This is the backdrop for the story. Alice works for the earth government FNG, a successor to the UN. She is sent to take over as head of the police force, the sguridad. Nikki Freeman, works for this corporate-paid police force. Pretty soon Alice finds that for all the exalted ideals they preach, the station is run in such a way that corruption and hedonism thrives under the surface.

There are three pillars to this story. The first is the backdrop against which this murder mystery is set. I found the universe, the political machinations and the space station well-described, convincing and rich. Even though I have seen some of the themes before in other works, they were executed well enough and gave the universe more depth. Besides, they are recurring because human nature is not likely to change anytime soon and human nature makes for good crime stories. Otherwise we would end up in a Star Trek like universe, which I always found less believable. The SF elements are not so prevalent that you could not read it without a preference for that sort of thing.

The second pillar is the main characters and their interaction. Alice and Nikki are opposites that have to work together to save themselves and others. This is classic buddy-cop pairing in my opinion. The author writes it very well and convincing. It added to my enjoyment of the story rather than detracted. Both characters are well thought out and they each have to overcome personal demons and grow in order to survive. This sounds a bit dramatic, and I suppose it is. Both their arcs have an earth shaking revelation moment, but neither left me going omg! But it didn’t stop me reading. There are not many side characters worthy of note, but those that are there are good.

The third pillar is the murder mystery itself. Now anything you write has already been done. The trick is to keep it interesting and not too obvious. Again the author has done a good job. Many of the twists and turns kept me reading long after my bedtime. None made me guess beforehand what was going to happen, as a bad crime novel would. The unique backdrop provided many opportunities for tension, excitement and unexpected story turns.

I found this an enjoyable read, and I would recommend this book to any friend with either a crime or sci-fi interest. For all that I liked Places in the Darkness, I did find myself strangely underwhelmed writing this review. All three of the pillars are great, but they do not add up to a greater sum for the whole book. Maybe there was too much going on for one thing to really shine. Still, if you are a fan of buddy cops, crime, or SF this is a very good read.


This book was provided for review by the publisher.