Aside from one pretty big complaint, this is one of the most fun books I’ve read this year. I love Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries (a good house party mystery always gets me going). I love when books mess with time. And I love sf elements mashed with other genres. I was worried the ending wouldn’t be able to bring it all together, but it did, with an added element of human emotion that I wasn’t quite expecting.
My advice to you on this one is to go in knowing as little as possible. The blurb spoils the main twist, that the main character has eight days to solve a murder, but it’s eight of the same day, spent in a different body each time. Beyond that, you should keep everything else a surprise. Part of the fun of this book is watching our main character try to work out what’s going on, and trying to figure it out along with him. (I do think it will also be fun to eventually re-read this, knowing everything that’s actually going on, and see how the author laid the clues out.)
The rest is going to be behind spoiler tags. Don’t read the first spoiler section if you haven’t read the book! I mean it! Don’t be contrary.
SPOILERS One of the things that makes this book more than just a cool concept and a fun mystery romp is that in the end, you learn that Aiden (our main character) has been trapped in Blackdown for thirty years by his own doing. Prisons no longer exist, and instead, criminals are sentenced to these virtual reality puzzles instead (no logistics are given for how this works, but you can use your imagination). Aiden originally went into Blackheath to essentially torture Anna, who has been his friend and someone he’s trying to help all throughout the novel. She was a terrible criminal on the outside (though specifics aren’t given), and one of her crimes was the torture and murder of Aiden’s sister. But since he lost his memory in Blackdown, over the decades he has changed into a kinder person, and so has Anna. The message that people can learn and change and rediscover their humanity if given the opportunity and the resources just really struck me, and made the whole book worth it END SPOILERS.
Regarding the one major complaint, click if you want to know, doesn’t spoil plot, just character stuff: SPOILERS One of our main character’s hosts is a banker who is very fat, to the point that it affects his mobility and his ability to be comfortable in his own body. That in itself isn’t fatphobic, but the way the character is treated by the narrative in almost every aspect was fatphobic. The main character is disgusted and ashamed of inhabiting the man’s body, and embarrassed when in the company of other people. The descriptions of the man’s body are not flattering, and are tinged with a horror of someone being that fat.
Minor plot progression spoilers: There was a huge missed opportunity here, considering that one of the main things that our main character has to deal with is the increasing loss of control over his hosts as he jumps from body to body, and his inability to repress their personalities and fears and desires. If the disgust and shame were from the host rather than the narrator, had been treated with compassion by the narrator as a byproduct of living in a fatphobic society, and our main character had felt more than disgust and horror at inhabiting such a fat body, it would have been much less objectionable. Particularly since it’s made clear that the banker ends up being one of our main character’s most helpful hosts (which he acknowledges): he’s intelligent, insightful, and methodical. That his fat body is mostly only played for pity or horror or in service of making him seem an odious marriage match is what is so bothersome. The narrator could have acknowledged the practical difficulties of living in a fat body without shaming and denigrating the man whose body it was END SPOILERS.
Even with that large complaint, though, I would still recommend this book to mystery lovers, and lovers of genre-bending speculative books. I think we all need to learn to be comfortable with the cognitive dissonance that comes with being able to criticize fairly something that you like. I am very much looking forward to his new book, and hope I can like it much more unreservedly without having to point out something harmful or bothersome.