Chris Brookmyre is an author who is hard to pin down, which is one of the things that make his books so intriguing and entertaining. We've seen him referred to, and may even have referred to him ourselves, as an author of Tartan Noir. And its certainly true that many of his books could be fitted within that genre. Not "Places in the Darkness" though. This superb novel takes us somewhere else entirely, to Ciudad del Cielo, or the "city in the sky", more usually known to residents of the city, and of Earth, as "CdC". CdC is an enormous space station in geostationary orbit over the Pacific. Here scientists and engineers are working to build a huge spaceship, a colony ship that will guarantee the long-term future of humanity by taking us, some of us, anyway, to the stars.
CdC is, we are told, "as close to a city without crime as mankind has ever seen." Well, up to a point. Petty graft and corruption are endemic, and much of the activity that keeps CdC functioning effectively as a society is on the margins of legality, or simply illegal. There has, however, never been a murder here. Once again, up to a point. There's never been a death that has been called a murder, however suspicious some of the "accidental" deaths that have occurred might look to an objective observer. In the background there are huge tensions between the corporations running CdC and the bodies seeking to oversee their activities on behalf of the Federation of National Governments of Earth, and no-one wants to rock the boat by admitting that anything about CdC is less than perfect. And then... well then there's a murder that is so utterly gruesome that it cannot possibly be written off as an accident, and all the tensions come to a head.
"Places in the Darkness" is a book that its very hard to review without spoiling for prospective readers. It's easy enough, and harmless enough, to say what a great book it is. And it's easy enough to say that the atmosphere, plot and characterisation are all outstanding. But this is a book that misdirects its readers in the interests of an enjoyably twisty plot from the very beginning; a book in which very little is what it seems; and a book in which almost no-one is who they appear. To embark on a discussion of the characters or plot, however superficially, is to risk taking away some of the joy of discovery that is part of what makes the book so good. As we read the book the comparison that kept coming to mind was the 1982 film, "Blade Runner". The atmosphere is unremittingly dark, and Chris Brookmyre's CdC is every bit as grimy and seamy as 1982's vision of 2019's Los Angeles. A great read for anyone with a taste for excellent sci-fi or excellent crime writing.