Places in the Darkness. Book Review

Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre
Orbit, p/b, 416pp, £8.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

Ciudad de Cielo, CdC, is the hope of humankind. A space station in Earth’s orbit, the best scientists work in there developing the technology to fly humanity to the stars before the sun’s eventual destruction which will wipe out their solar system. These men and women are altruistic, working for a goal thousands of years in the future. A future they will never see. There is no murder, no corruption, no children. But the selflessness of the scientists covers the darker nature of humanity.

People on CdC have implanted brain meshes. Some have it for easy download of information. Others have it to eradicate the painful memories that they don’t want to deal with. But the heart never forgets. Pain continues in a soul-destroying vagueness, knowing something was wrong just not sure what, leading to self-destructive behaviour.

Dr Alice Blake is the new Principal of Security Oversight Executive for the Federation of National Governments. She is idealistic and rigid in her beliefs. Immediately, she discovers the rules in CdC are more guidelines which unbalances her as much as the strangeness of living aboard a space station with occasional gravity blackouts.

Sergeant Nikki Freeman is the epitome of CdC’s duality. On the surface, she’s a police officer in a space station where there is no crime. Underneath, she’s Nikki Fixx, an enforcer running a protection racket for prostitutes and illegal alcohol dealers. She refuses a brain mesh, preferring to use her past as a form of punishment, proof that she deserves the life she has now.

When someone is murdered on the station, the two women must work together to solve the crime which leads them to deeply personal discoveries about themselves. They must accept neither has the right world view point, that both are far from the ideal they want to be, and fight to claw themselves back to where they want to be.

All the main players are female, well-developed, independent, and capable. Together, they can solve the case if they can understand the world is not black and white, but that humans live in shades of grey. The CdC is also depicted as a multi-cultural society. Brookmyre handles characteristics like race and sexuality subtly which enhances the story telling, instead of slowing it down.

Places in the Darkness explores the consequences of running from our mistakes and hurts. No matter what we do though, we can’t hide. We can only find the future by embracing our past. A space crime noir with all the expected elements of both genres, it is fast-paced, high-energy, and full of suspense which will keep you guessing right to the end.