The Ark. Book Review

arkThe Ark by Patrick S Tomlinson
Angry Robot Books, p/b, 400pp, £6.18
Reviewed by Martin Willoughby

This is a detective story, set in space, and a cracking good one too. The main character can be likened to Raymond Chandler’s Sam Spade or, latterly, Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, but is no imitation of them.

The detective is Bryan Benson and was appointed to police chief after being a success in the only sport on the Ark, Zero, which is a microgravity form of Rugby and American Football. Once he retired, he was given the job of police chief in the Avalon section of the Ark. Surprising? Yes. Until you consider that the worst offences he has to deal with are littering and people not recycling their waste. Until now.

The Ark is a generational starship carrying the whole of humanity, Earth having been destroyed, and has two habitation areas, just in case one of them is destroyed. Everyone was specially selected, weeding out those who had genetic diseases, and their journey is taking them to a new planet in Tau Ceti. At least most of them were selected. Some, like Benson’s ancestors, managed to cheat their way on board. For the past two and a half centuries eleven generations of humans have waited to start a new civilisation, to boldly go where no human has been. That time has arrived and they are about enter the system.

In Avalon, a man has gone missing, Edmond Laraby, and he’s not just anybody. Laraby is one of ‘the Crew’, the highest ranking and, according to themselves, most important of the 50,000 people on the Ark. They are the ones who run the ship. The missing person soon becomes a corpse, his body having been ejected into space.  Benson suspects a member of the crew to be either responsible for the death, or an accomplice in that death. But who?  Nor is it simple. The case soon becomes tied up with stolen artworks and a conspiracy to destroy humanity.

The story proceeds apace and, thankfully, does not contain the techno porn of some SF books, though the Ark is described well, and when the action proceeds outside you get a real feel for what the Ark is, its size and what goes into making a generation ship that will last three centuries in space.  What does happen is the investigation gets darker and darker, while Benson, struggling to control his temper and wise-cracks, struggles with the case. He is, after all, an ex-sportsman not a fully trained cop. But then, none of them are.

The writing is excellent, the pace superb and it’s one of those books that feels like a quick read until you look out the window and see the sun rise, realising you’ve been reading for several hours. I started this book on a Friday night and it was finished by Sunday morning, leaving me disappointed that it was over.  There are also two great twists at the end, one of which, the secret of Atlantis, sets up the next in series, and one that I just did not see coming.

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who wants a great read. Although it’s SF, the technical details in here are no harder to grasp than the minutiae of forensics you get in standard crime fiction and, I think, are easier to read, making it ideal and different for someone who likes crime thrillers. The emphasis is on police work, people and conspiracies, not technology.