No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, April 10, 2006

#33: 9Tail Fox -- Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Apart from the central concept -- the 9tail fox, if you like -- which could be either supernatural or scientific, there's little overtly science-fictional about this novel. It's a crime novel allegedly set in the near future, in a San Francisco where the police departments are slightly different to those of our own world, but it's a future that is, for all intents and purposes, the present.

Bobby Zha is an SFPD detective who ends up investigating his own murder. He discovers almost as much about himself and his, often dysfunctional, relationships with others as he does about the crime, and the convoluted motives behind it. It's a novel about identity, its loss, its persistence, its nature. Besides Zha, there's a homeless black man who claims he served in Vietnam -- clearly a delusion, except that the numbers scratched on his dog-tags open some surprising avenues -- and a mad scientist (er, probably not mad) who's taken his name from a character in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. There's a missing Russian oligarch and the assassins sent to track him. Oh, and a crack-addicted kitten.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the novel is the portrayal of Zha's relationships -- pre- and post-mortem -- with colleagues and other SFPD officers. (I do wish the author would write a sex scene that wasn't hasty, rough and slightly sordid: it got old around NeoAddix and he hasn't stopped yet.)

The ending feels hasty, though I think it ties up the plot-essential threads: there are quite a few loose ends, but I think they're there to add Atmosphere. Or perhaps I missed their resolution.

Badly proofed / edited: I gave up counting errors after the first hundred pages ('... such a group included one of their member'; '"I've head of it"; any number of stray apostrophes) and I'd run out of fingers before that. Grimwood has some neat ideas, but he is not above cliche and lazy prose. Quite an entertaining read, but I'm getting pickier about prose quality, and this doesn't compare well with the literary fiction I've been devouring lately. No reason that it should, of course, but to me it felt like a lack.

And Another Thing: The author's descriptions of Bobby's teenaged daughter -- Goth makeup (hey, this is the Future, isn't it?), ecological concerns etc -- sound terribly middle-aged at times, almost to the point of cliche ...

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