(Science Fiction, Crime Thriller, Gritty Noir, Series, Chronicle)
Grade: B/Γ +— Highly enjoyable book of mixed genre. Solid story, good characters, if you like these genres, read this book. If you like one of them, but not the other, I suspect you will still enjoy it.
SIDE NOTE – Yes… I am going to revamp the whole grading system. It’s gotten way too complex. In short REALLY liked it – but it’s combination of genres may not appeal to everyone.
Graveyard by William Dietz is a gripping, gritty dark detective story that serves as the third installment in the Mutant Files series. While it can be read as a stand alone (I did), it is likely best enjoyed if you read the series in order. Set in a post-plague apocalyptic Los Angeles, Graveyard combines Sci Fi, mystery and gritty police procedural in a manner that grabbed my attention. Its strong female protagonist drew me further in, and I really enjoyed the read as a whole.
This is a good read for sci fi and crime drama fans, a great read for those who like both genres, and well worth picking up for anyone who likes Urban Fantasy mysteries, and interested in seeing that same dark element in a Sci Fi setting.
A post-plague apocalyptic Los Angeles, where the US has devolved into separate states. Some decades before the story opens, a devastating, man made disease was released upon the world population. This disease not only kills many of its victims, those who survive develop genetic mutations, not of the superhero form, but of the slightly more realistic body changing form. Some might be seen as beneficial, but most are painful, disfiguring and/or generally problematic.
As that many of those infected are still carriers, the non-infected population has created Red Zones that segregate the mutants from the rest of the population – resulting in social stress, bigotry and an unequal divide of resources.
So, for my first sojourn back into book reviews, I decided to start with an author I like who has combined two of my favorite genres (Sci-Fi and gritty detective stories) into a new series that seems well poised to draw fans of both – and perhaps appeal to those who, like me, enjoy Urban Fantasy but are a tad bored of it.
To that end, Graveyard is a highly enjoyable read that blends the dark detective novel with a science fiction twist, allowing the author to subtly comment on poignant social issues of today. It also nicely blends four plotlines (two volume internal, one personal story arc, and one the Bonebreaker case that serves as the main series arc) in a manner that I have often felt is missing in many mysteries and crime dramas.
I have always thought it funny how so many cop stories seem to ignore the fact that police usually have to deal with more than one case at a time. In Graveyard the main character, LAPD Detective Cassandra Lee has four main cases she is attending to – two of which are intricately interwoven, one of which is wholly personal, and the third of which is a serial-cop-killer case that serves and the principal story arc across the series. While the plots and subplots are tightly drawn enough to prevent the story from meandering, they are also disparate enough to give a sense of reality that is often missing from Police Procedural stories. While I personally felt there could have been an extra beat to the Bonebreaker plot, the last scene was highly enjoyable and the end brought a very solid and satisfying resolution to all four sub-plots.
For those who have read the other two books in the series, Deadeye and Red Zone, Graveyard has the very appealing aspect of further exploring the Bonebreaker. We see a good amount from his point of view and discover a great deal about his past that builds upon and fleshes out the glimpses we had from earlier books (which I am in the process of going back to read). This has the advantage of both filling out how and the serial killer came to be, while also building up Cassandra Lee as a character – both in contrast and in backstory. It works very well.
One additional aspect I enjoyed about the novel was that, as with other of his books, Dietz also manages weave a socially relevant subtext into the series without hitting you over the head with it. In this case, the subtext is a dissertation on the problems of refugees, illegal immigration and the social complexities of building walls (real and symbolic).
In the world he’s built, America has torn itself apart attempting to deal with the mutant problem. Initially it created camps (refugee camps) where the infected were led and left to die. As the problem spread, the US created Red Zones, where the mutants were herded and left to fend for themselves. This resulted in the dissolution of the US and the creation of smaller federal states that do not always cooperate as well as they should.
Meanwhile to the South, Mexico was devastated by the plague. Unable to segregate itself as readily, the disease spread across the whole nation, with a much greater loss of life and a near universal infection rate. Those who survived reformed themselves into the New Aztec Empire… populated almost entirely by the mutant victims of the disease. A nation that does not exactly have a positive outlook towards Los Angeles and ruthless way it treated its own mutant population. Add to that elements that the Aztecs view as historic inequities, and you have quite a problem brewing.
All of this can be read solely as exciting story backdrop, but I strongly suspect something more going on. Indeede, one of the things I enjoy the most about Dietz’s work in general is that there is usually something deeper woven into his books. Sometimes it is a bit of philosophy, sometimes social commentary, but it is never “hit-you-on-the-head” in its nature. If you want a good adventure tale and nothing more, the message doesn’t prevent that. Yet if you keep your mind open, there is usually a bit of thought provocation there too.
In this case, I cannot help but read a bit of commentary on the problems of immigration and refugees within this book. It is not over the top, nor does it condemn any one point of view. Rather, it notes the issue and encourages you to think about it, from both sides.
Throughout the Mutant Files, there is the underlying problem of the plague. The Americans (or former Americans as it were) need to deal with the serious problem of an epidemic and the death and destruction it brings. To me, this speaks of American present perceived problems of immigration, drugs and crime. This is in no way spelled out in the book, and I could be reading Latino/Muslim where no such subtext is intended, but it is my view.
Meanwhile in the series, the mutants (read refugees) are facing a real problem of the disease as well, not to mention the destroyed economy and overall disparity that have followed in its wake. If the former US had problems, surely it was worse in those areas where the plague ran free. One cannot help but feel sympathy for the mutants trying to make a better life, or hiding like illegal immigrants within the city
To that end, the Aztecs (a mutant based state that occupies areas beyond the present day borders of Mexico) are unjust in what they attempt to do in this story, but the inequity they face, and to a degree their justification of their actions, makes it seem understandable. The citizens of Los Angeles were cold and terrible in the way they excluded the mutants from society, but faced with a horrible disease one can understand how and why they addressed the problem as they did. It is possible to read all sorts of things into this – drugs, terrorism, poverty, the present refugee crisis from the Near and Middle East (not to mention the one from Central America). I cannot say how many, if any, Dietz intended to play upon, but to me – this all seemed poignant.
Indeed, this is what impresses me the most about the tale. Dietz does not demean the reader by coming up with a quick-easy (or worse still sci-fi ‘magic’) solution. He plays out both sides and lets the reader form his/her own views. He does not play the role of a prophet – he comments and lets the ideas provoke the reader to think without it interrupting the kick-butt action and adventure of the tale.
And this is one of the things that shows Dietz at his best – a great gritty, gumshoe cop story in a cool setting that points out social issues without presuming to solve them.
If you want some action, adventure, crime drama and good story telling spiced with something to think about, read this book, and the series. I think you will be highly entertained.