Friday, April 12, 2013

WALKING SHADOW by Clifford Royal Johns

One of my guilty pleasures is good science fiction detective story, and Walking Shadow is one of better ones I've read recently. In a well-realized future Chicago, our protagonist Benny Kahn, who's more of a low level criminal than a hero, wakes up one morning to find he's paid a memory removal company to surgically take out something significant from his recent past. So thorough is the removal job that he wouldn't even know he'd had the surgery were it not for the bills he keeps getting from the removal company. What's worse, they say if he doesn't pay, they will report the erased memory (which they kept records of) to the police. Needless to say Benny is curious as to what he did or didn't do that would interest the police.

Benny decides to dig around, asking a seedy friend named Chen if he knows anything. Chen manages to get Benny a transcript of the removal job, which reveals that Benny wanted to remove the memory of ....nope, not gonna spoil it for you, other than to say things get really interesting. But even this reveal gets turned on its head a little later. As the novel progresses, peeling back layer after layer of clues and reveals, Benny learns that nothing is as it seems and no one is to be trusted. Friends turn out to be enemies, dead people are revealed to be alive, and Benny's own mind might be playing tricks on him. Poor Benny doesn't even come out of this with his psyche unsctathed.

Walking Shadow is a robust whodunnit and whydunnit that I found brilliant fun. Aside from a well developed city scape complete with flying cars (called buzzcars), a wealth of sci fi gadgetry, and a lexicon that rivals the best future noirs around, there is a wondeerfully crafted mystery that plays with the notion of reality like the best Philip Dick novels, or books like like Altered Carbon and Demolished Man.

Johns has a great sense of style and reading his prose was pure joy. The dialogue sizzled and was realistic and engaging at once, the violence was disturbing (I've grown accustomed to so called shock scenes in books, and a bit of video footage at the end of the book didn't shock me, but the way it was written still had me feeling uncomfortable) and the descriptive tension was high throughout.

Bottom line, this is a great book if you like movies like Bladerunner or Total Recall (the good one). I enjoyed it immensely and I will definitely seek out more work by Clifford Royal Johns.

4.5 OUT OF 5 Worms

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