Review: The Reaches

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The Reaches
by Jason Bengtson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Reaches / B003CV7UNE

Justin Abelard doesn't have very many reasons not to commit suicide. Sure, his detective skills are practically legendary, and god knows enough people need his help, but at the end of the day, all he really has are bad memories and a respectable stash of dirty magazines. Maybe the new serial killer on Mars will bring a little light into his life...

"The Reaches" starts with strong characterization in the person of Abelard - he somehow puts me in mind of a delightful cross of "Lucky Starr" (Asimov's space detective) with the cynicism and magnificent "bad-itude" of "Constantine". His hyper-competence puts him a shade on the uncomfortable side of Mary Sue-ism, but that sort of thing comes standard with the territory for lone wolf detectives, and the suicide-risk vulnerability offsets it nicely. What really makes this excerpt stand out, though, is the wry, sharp writing - the opening scene where Abelard considers his suicide is pure writing gold, with "Better. Shame." really popping off the page as a perfect example of how a third-person narrative can still effectively and perfectly convey character thoughts. The "it was all a dream" sequence is a little frustrating, as are all "just a dream" segues, but the fact that it was (probably? hopefully?) an actual memory (as opposed to a fantasy) softens the transition. And I personally found the cult serial killer angle to be instantly hooking. (Although, depending on how far in the future this is set, you might reconsider the idea that the fish symbol wasn't picked up by anyone but the Catholics - I had to laugh out loud, coming from a heavily-Protestant and yet highly-"fished" community.)

If I may make two extremely minor nitpicks: "filtered Martian daylight" would flow better and would set the scene more clearly - I stumbled over that line twice before I understood correctly what was being conveyed. And, if your main character is going to have priceless Earth artifacts hanging around his residence, the pedantic reader is going to want some hand-waving later to justify the expense of shipping said priceless artifacts from Earth to Mars. That sort of thing can fall under basic world-building - I assume that space travel is a lot easier and less expensive than it currently is, what with the bounce to Callisto and back - and it can definitely wait until later in the novel, but it is something to consider when building your world (i.e., that it won't look precisely like Earth does now, and usually 'luxury' items are the first things to go in science fiction settings, due to the premium on space and the expense of shipping).

NOTE: This review is based on a sample excerpt of this book provided through the ABNA contest.

~ Ana Mardoll

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