I tend toward the urban fantasy end for ongoing series where a first person narrator investigates some crime, so what’s going on on the science fiction end of such things?
That would bring me to Alex Hughes’ Clean, the first in a series of novels about a telepath investigating crimes for a future version of Atlanta. Review and some mild SPOILERS after the cut.
To start…no, it was not a mistake on your part, you didn’t miss anything, if you notice the narrator doesn’t give you his name right away. That was deliberate. As a stylistic thing, it does make sense, but the character remains completely unnamed until the last page.
If that sort of thing bothers you, you’ve been warned.
While most of the urban fantasy protagonists I read tend to tell the reader who they are and then guide them step-by-expository-step through their settings, Hughes doesn’t do that with Clean more than absolutely necessary. I figure there may be a reason for that. Harry Dresden, for example, needs to explain things to the reader who, obviously, is not part of his world. The narrator here is living at some point in the future. Little things are dropped here and there, like how there are human colonies on other planets in the solar system, but anyone this narrator would be speaking to would already know all that stuff. He’ll mention something called the Tech Wars, and how horrible they were, and how many people were killed, and how the result was people living in the Western Hemisphere now have a severe distrust for the Internet, but what exactly all that stuff was is left to the reader’s imagination.
The Guild, which you’d need to be a member of get at all, is another story, and even then the details given are never more than necessary.
Again, if this sort of thing bothers you, you’ve been warned.
The narrator is a telepath. He used to belong to the Guild. All psychics belong to the Guild except this guy. He got kicked out for being a drug addict after a Guild experiment he volunteered for turned out worse than anyone might have anticipated and his politically-minded fiancee reported him. Now he works as an interrogator for the Atlanta P.D. He has a good close rate, but he really wants his drug, especially during a nasty heat wave, and too many people around him give him a nasty, near-constant headache. Being a telepath is no fun, since normal people don’t trust them and other psychics think he’s trash for the whole addiction thing.
The closest he has to a friend is the woman detective he works with. Her name is Cherabino. The narrator’s feelings for her seem complicated, and that’s fine, but I think Cherabino’s feelings back are even more complicated, and not in a way Hughes sells particularly well. We’re told, from another telepath, that she thinks about him a lot, but mostly she seems to be angry with him, or she’s just sad all the time. The character has good reasons for it, but it didn’t work for me too well.
Things get more complicated when the narrator is brought in to help investigate a serial killer that seems to be killing people psychically. The narrator is then (a bit reluctantly) put between his new bosses, many of whom don’t like him but want to solve the case, and his old associates, who usually have exclusive rights to Guild criminals outside the court system of normal people.
See, the whole lack of name thing threw me for a while, and Cherabino never felt like a good match as a friend or otherwise to the narrator. I think Hughes set a good groundwork here, and the book is hardly boring, but it could have been much better in many ways. Mostly in the key relationship between the narrator and his partner.
And no, I won’t say what the guy’s name was. Read this seven out of ten missing names rated novel yourself to find out. Or Google it or something. That might work.