Dogs Don't Lie — Clea Simon
I met Clea Simon a few weeks ago at a reading she gave with Deb Grabien. She writes cat cozies for the most part, not at all my cuppa, but her reading from Dogs Don't Lie, sounded interesting. Simon described the book described as a "pet noir," sorta as if Raymond Chandler had written a Doctor Doolittle story. The lead character is Pru Marlowe, an animal behaviorist with the ability to telepathically communicate with them. The book opens with Marlowe finding one of her charges, a pit bull named Lily, standing over the body of Lily's human, a computer programmer whose neck has been ripped open. Pru can sense that Lily didn't do it, but when the cops arrive, Lily becomes the lead suspect. Pru spends the rest of the book trying to get Lily off death row.
It's fun. Pru sticks her nose into the investigation, interviewing human suspects and animal witnesses, including a ferret named Frank (although his human calls him Bandit). I thought the characterization of the Frank was dead on, and most of the other animals, too. They think animal thoughts, which is good, and many aren't very useful to Pru's investigation. As Pru notes at one point, there's a reason humans came up with the term "birdbrain." There's one big exception to this, though, and that's Pru's cat, Wallis. Pru's psychic link works best with Wallis, allowing them to have full conversations, and Pru uses Wallis as her sounding board. The problem is that Wallis comes off a bit too much like a cat-shaped human. It's the one thing that keeps nudging at my suspension of disbelief. Which is a shame, because otherwise the mystery is a good one.
Graceland — Deborah Grabien
As I said, I was at one of Deb's readings in support of this book, the latest in her Kinkaid Chronicles. Graceland deals with rock and roll roots. I liked it quite a bit. Plus, ever the non-conformist, she bucks the the talking ferret trend by not including one. Go buy it.
Jaggers & Shad: ABC Is for Artificial Beings Crimes — Barry B. Longyear
It's the 22nd century and technology allows humans to move between their natural bodies and assorted android, amdroid (animal androids), and robot bodies. This leads to some unusual crimes, crimes investigated by Detective Inspector Jaggers and Detective Sergeant Shad. Neither Jaggers nor Shad has a natural body anymore, both having died in the line of duty. Fortunately for them, each had his engrams saved so that they could occupy alternative meat suits. For Jaggers, it was a standard police-issue Basil Rathbone model. Shad, being a frustrated ex-actor, used the opportunity to get back into show business... as the AFLAC duck. At least until the outfit with the computer generated lizard bought them out and he lost his gig. Now he's back on the job, waddling a beat in his specially customized (built-in wifi and enhanced sensors) duck suit. It all sounds silly, but Longyear makes it work (see also, Circus World). The stories are set in and around Exeter, Devon, and many hinge on odd bits of geography and history associated with the area. There's one story based on the network of tunnels beneath going back to Cromwell's time that is absolutely fascinating*. That story also features a ferret amdroid named Mogridge. Highly recommended.
* Longyear signed my copy of the book at Readercon, and mentioned that his sister lives in Exeter. Apparently there are tours of the tunnels. I've never had a reason to want to visit England, until now.
Rule 34 — Charles Stross
I wasn't expecting to find a talking ferret in Stross's book, but I suppose that any book titled Rule 34 would have the possibility**. Plus, the whole theme of the book is coincidence, and sure enough, there on page 320, when D.I. Kavanagh gives one of her subordinates a job:
"Hey, skipper." Moxie leers at you over a browser full of—you look away quickly. "What can I do you for?"
"Dr. Adam MacDonald, Ed Uni, CS department. What have we got on him?"
"How deep do you want to go?" Your ferret is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed: Moxie likes nothing better than a good chase.
Okay, in this case, the ferret is a metaphorical one, but still. The book is a loose sequel of Halting State. Liz Kavanagh, the D.I. from the first book is running Edinburgh's Rule 34 squad, tracking down internet perverts and the fabricators who cater to them***. She is first on the scene when a spammer turns up dead in what appears to be a bizarre domestic accident. Cross checking the net turns up several other similarly bizarre "accidents," with all the victims being involved in spam and/or malware schemes. The deaths are occurring almost simultaneously, and as coincidence after coincidence occurs, Kavanagh begins to wonder if there is someone or something orchestrating them. Stross has often talked about how the escalating war between spammers and spam filters is the kind of process from which an artificial intelligence could emerge, and he explores that here.
** And talking would probably be the least of its abilities. Shudder.
*** See also this recent XKCD.
It's a terrific, if a tad raw****, book for 342 pages. The problem is that it's got 16 more pages. The ending is badly rushed, and it ends with a very disappointing whimper rather than the expected bang. For all the build-up, which is great while it lasts, there's no pay off. In fact, it feels more like a set up for the next sequel. The other problem is that as a mystery, it doesn't really play fair with the reader. The murderer is literally a deus ex machina, and although there is some evidence of its existence along the way, it's not a very satisfying conclusion. Too bad. It was fun most of the way.
**** In the old days the SF Book Club blurb would've included the warning, "Contains frank language and sexual situations." Boy, howdy.