(Science Fiction, Mystery)
Grade: Γ — (Gamma) A good or even fantastic book within the genre, possibly worth reading regardless of which genre’s you like, but has a setting or style that is likely to be unappealing to individuals who are not fans of a given genre. This is the highest grade that many very good books that are part of a series can receive, since series require an investment in reading that normally only appeals to fans of that genre.
Clean is a near future science fiction mystery thriller about a psychic detective working with the police to find ruthless killer with mental powers of his own. Set in a world where a powerful psionic guild controls most people with psychic powers, we are quickly drawn into a web of suspicions, where suspicions of conspiracies lurk in the shadows… and deadly killer is on the streets.
Near future, gritty America (mostly Atlanta), where people with psionics are licensed by the powerful Guild, living as a minority among the public and viewed with considerable suspicion. A Tech War has occurred in the remembered past that stripped a great number of resources from the public, and kept technological development somewhat limited out of fears (both legitimate and superstitious in nature).
Set in the near-future, Clean by Alex Hughes is a gritty detective tale that takes place in world where psionics live more-or-less openly among us, but are strictly monitored by the Guild. The story centers on a once great telepath with whose drug addiction has ruined his life. Once a promising young genius inside the Guild, our hero was cast out and now serves as a consultant and interrogator for the Atlanta Police as he struggles and stumbles on his road to recovery. This road becomes even more rocky when he is brought in on an investigation that has all the ear marks of a Guild conspiracy.
This is the first of a series of compelling stand-alone novels that manage to give a full sense of completion at the conclusion of each volume. There are no cliff-hanger or unanswered questions here, though Hughes has created a world and set of characters that have plenty of possibilities for great future stories. Indeed, the setting has potential for all sorts of interesting twists centered on a deep examination of life in a world with logical and limited psychic powers. Telepaths, telekentics, teleporters, clairvoyants, precognitives and other psionics are explored against a backdrop of murder mysteries – is it any wonder I loved this book?
Yet Clean is not just a single gimmick novel. The story does not rely on psychic powers to make it work. There is an interesting murder mystery at the heart of this tale that introduces us to the history of the protagonist, the world in which the Mindscape Investigation series takes place, and serves as a fully legitimate mystery in its own right. Told from the first person POV, we know everything our hero knows and so we are left to guess what is happening right along side our protagonists. Never once did I notice Hughes hiding any information from us (which follows of this blog know is one of the surest ways to tick me off). Oh don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Red Herrings, but while the telepathic nature of the story could have allowed Hughes to hide things from the audience, she instead relies on good old fashioned story telling to let the mystery unwind as we discover clues along side our hero.
What is more, not only Clean build a fascinating world, introduce us to flawed but sympathetic characters and tell a good mystery, it also showcases some very fine writing as well. I cannot go into it without possibly providing spoilers, but suffice it to say that Hughes manages to use language and story telling to her advantage, managing to pull off some rather sophisticated story elements – particularly related to character development – without drawing attention to what she is doing.
Indeed, some aspects of this book made me initially want to give this an Alpha or Beta rating, but good sense won out. This is a mixed genre novel that is deep its use of associated writing archetypes. If you don’t like mysteries, this is a mystery first and foremost. If you don’t like science fiction – this story revolves around a world in which psionic powers exist (though they are limited and have a clearly thought out and consistent logic structure). Even so, both genres sit easily side-by-side in this novel, and if you don’t mind either one, I suspect you will like this book. If you like one, I suspect the way they are blended together will let you enjoy it very much.
If you like both of them, as I do, this is a must read. I look forward to picking up the next installment.