I don’t read science-fiction, but I’d enjoyed Black Widow by Chris Brookmyre, so I thought I’d give Places in the Darkness a go, hoping it would be more a detective story set in space than a science-fiction novel. It turned out to be an equal mix of both. I was impatient with the sci-fi worldbuilding which needed to happen before the detective work could begin, and my initial feeling was that Places in the Darkness was too much like hard work. The narrative didn’t properly catch my interest until Alice and Nikki met up, and their two perspectives started to overlap to tell the story.
This is the most advanced place in the history of human civilisation, and yet some people seem intent on recreating a mid-nineteenth-century frontier town, or maybe Chicago circa the 1920s.Places in the Darkness, Chris Brookmyre
Places in the Darkness isn’t the kind of crime novel you could solve as you were reading, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The narrative does include clues to things which happen later, but they’re working more on a system of keeping the reader interested in uncovering the truth about the world than they are actually helping fit pieces together to solve the central puzzle. There is so much going on in the novel that at least once Chris Brookmyre returned to a clue he’d planted and I’d forgotten about it — not something that happens with straightforward murder mysteries. Chris Brookmyre does something similar with the themes of the novel, laying the groundwork well in advance of the dramatic reveal, which makes the whole novel feel really clever.
That selfish voice inside her asks why she is prepared to go through this in a probably doomed attempt to rescue some crazy girl she’s barely met and who is most likely already dead anyway. But then, that selfish voice has been running the show for too many years, and nothing got better for her listening to it.Places in the Darkness, Chris Brookmyre
Combined with the setting, the occasional moments of clever wordplay in the prose put me in mind of Douglas Adams, though nothing about Places in the Darkness feels absurdist or random. Chris Brookmyre has clearly carefully plotted the novel, and the twists took me by surprise in exactly the right way.
Places in the Darkness is an exciting book, and I’m glad I ventured outside my comfort zone to read it. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Ex Machina.
Next, I’ll be reading The Universe is Expanding and so Am I by Carolyn Mackler.