Wednesday, July 07, 2021

"Neo-Noir Procedural" Crime Fiction: MIDNIGHT, WATER CITY by Chris McKinney

This year's most remarkable crime fiction may be Chris McKinney's July 13 release, MIDNIGHT, WATER CITY. Take a hard-boiled detective novel, with all its bitterness and grim assessment of the human race -- and knock it 80 years into our future, when a strike from a major asteroid is averted just in time to save what remains of Earth.

 But that's not the heart of the book, or it wouldn't be such a good read. 

The protagonist tells the story, and remains simply "I" throughout -- a man who's reinvented himself too many times, with wives and children gone, and a current wife and small daughter he adores. But his career hasn't shifted much: Long ago he was head of security for the world's most important and heroic scientist, Akira Kimura, who saved the planet from that asteroid. Then he became a police detective. And as MIDNIGHT, WATER CITY opens, Akira has called him back, because she feels under threat.

Unfortunately, it's too late. And as Akira's life, science, and secrets unfold, the criminal behind her murder becomes painfully obvious: a family member who's determined to out-think her, out-class her, out-live her ... and even take on the deification that the culture has given to the amazing astronomer and politically savvy women who saved the world.

The book's also an environmental morality tale, plus a crushing accusation of a culture that's increasingly divided between haves and have-nots, or Less Thans. What saves it from becoming another Gulliver's Travels or similar bitter satire is the tender loyalty that the protagonist displays despite his despair:

Some people would say that using the word "security" for what I did for Akira is a stretch. But it's what I did. I kept her safe by any means necessary. That instinct hasn't faded ... people on all levels tried to take her down. I silenced them all. Aching joints now, perhaps the loss of a step, but when I'm in mode, I know I've got a power bomb or two left in me.

But it's been ages since I had to be in mode. Decades. I get to the telescope door and let its scanner flash over my face. Even after all these years, it recognizes me and opens, and for some reason, I'm surprised. Not that I still have clearance, but that the machine even recognizes me. Because the older I get, the less recognizable I am to myself.

This protagonist has some special abilities of his own, and he's relied on them to direct his ethical compass during a lifetime of protecting Akira. But when he begins to realize the real crimes that are emerging from his past, and hers, even his strengths are tainted, and the classic hard-boiled formula of a wounded detective unable to save himself seems about to take over.

McKinney tosses some stunning twists into this, though, and crime readers may find this book's play of betrayal and discovery to be a haunting futuristic version of the best crime fiction of the past.

Released by Soho Crime, an imprint of Soho Press.

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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