Sometimes you encounter an author who inspires the worst of human emotions: envy. Here is someone who can throw words on to paper and produce something so compulsively readable that you just have to read it through to the end to see how it comes out. Why are some authors just so good? I suppose it’s a mixture of an instinctive ability for storytelling and the craft of being able to tell the story in words so well chosen that the reader is immediately seduced. As an aside, I’m reminded of a famous English radio and television personality called Johnny Morris. He had the verbal magic of accent and cadence. You only had to hear a few words. He was instantly recognisable. Someone once said of him that he could read the telephone directory and make it sound interesting. So it is with some writers. They can take the most pedestrian of ideas yet transform them into immediately likeable text. It’s a rare talent and Kristine Kathryn Rusch has it. More importantly, she also has a great command of narrative development. Combine plot with simple and elegant writing, and you have a winner.
Duplicate Effort is the seventh in the Retrieval Artist series. There comes a point for some authors when they begin to find the development of a series a challenge. They have set up the basic cast of characters and, in the tradition of television soap operas, they have all loved and hated each other. Then, for the average author, this basic formula just runs out of creative steam and, no matter how interesting the plotting idea for the latest instalment, the characters feel tired. Yet, I am pleased to report, all the characters in this series continue to grow and develop. Miles Flint, the eponymous retrieval artist, now has a daughter to worry about. In the previous volumes, he was never vulnerable to intimidation or blackmail because there was no-one close to him. Now he must think defensively for two. Talia, his daughter (although, in some respects, her legal status as a clone may be somewhat blurry) is struggling to come to terms with the death of her mother and the sudden appearance of a father whom she had thought long dead. Naturally, as a precocious teenager, she has an independent streak that makes her a challenge for a man coming late to the role of “father”. Noelle DeRicci has risen from the position of “mere” detective to Chief of Security. Bartholomew Nyquist, a senior detective, is out of rehabilitation following the murderous attack on him in the last volume and now picks up a new case that is bigger than he first realises. Maxine Van Alen, a lawyer who always seemed in control of her fear of physical retaliation for her excellent legal skills suddenly finds new vulnerability as danger comes knocking on her door. And then there is Justinian Wagner who, as the Éminence Grise of Wagner, Stuart & Xendor, controls the operations of the most powerful firm of lawyers in this novel’s universe.
The most pleasing aspect of this series is that everything is woven together as an emerging tapestry. All that has gone before is remembered and resonates for the characters who must struggle and come to terms with the consequences of their past actions. Unlike the so-called “butterfly effect”, the series of events unfolding in this series is rather more an African buffalo tramples. The characters seem to have been set on a path designed to subject them to extremes of fear and danger but, in all honesty, that is the stuff of a mystery story set in an science fictional universe. You would expect there to be dangerous aliens lurking and even more dangerous humans in plain sight (some of them on the “right” side of the law). In this latest episode, Miles Flint suddenly becomes aware that Ki Bowles, the ambitious investigative reporter from previous volumes, has been murdered along with one of her security detail and the owner of the security firm. It looks a distinct possibility that Miles and, possibly, Maxine may be next on the hit list. So it becomes a race to identify the source of the threat and to deal with it before anyone else dies. In this, there are three completely separate lines of enquiry to represent the “duplicated effort” of the title (although, since Talia is a clone, the duplication process may be more personal). Miles and Talia work on their own ideas while Nyquist and his new partner follow the clues from the murders. Sitting in her high tower, Noelle DeRicci also has a problem to solve.
Although everything hangs together perfectly as a metanarrative, the ending has a slightly unfinished feel about it. I suppose the intention is to leave the consequences for the next instalment, but a few more pages would have left Nyquist, in particular, in a less ambiguous position. Overall, this is another tremendous contribution to the continuing saga. As with other series, this book should be read in context. If you have not read the earlier volumes, you should start at the beginning with The Disappeared. If, like me, you have been steadily consuming each instalment, this will not disappoint.