As is my wont these days, I jumped into Peter F Hamilton’s Greg Mandel series in the middle, A Quantum Murder (from 1994) being the second book of (as far as I know) three. It’s sci-fi, it’s a detective novel – what’s not to like? Apart from most of the female characters.
It’s 2044 and England’s just thrown off the oppressive socialist regime that tried (rather heavy-handedly) to sort the country out after the disaster of global warming and rising sea levels. Greg Mandel is an ex-soldier (and legendary urban guerrilla) with an implant which can enhance his natural psychic tendencies; he’s badgered out of his contented new life as a farmer to help the local police investigate the murder of Edward Kitchener, a famous physicist who runs a kind of super-elite sabbatical for recent physics graduates in a big lonely house nearby. The fact that Kitchener was something of a lovable (to those who knew him well) rogue who didn’t care who in the establishment he upset, and who was rumoured to be working on research that may well provoke deadly rivalry doesn’t help narrow the field of suspects.
Greg straddles two worlds, with friends in the remnants of the anti-socialist street gangs and among the super-rich, and we’re introduced to both, the shallow concerns of spoilt young heiress Julia (who veers quite close to caricature at times) contrasting with the struggle for survival of Greg’s erstwhile gang-mates. Resented by the police he’s been asked to help, Greg and his wife and friends turn to unconventional methods to solve the crime.
Overall I enjoyed the novel and I’m looking forward to the next one (currently in my cupboard of unread books). It worked well as a detective novel, gripping, throwing you off the scent and delivering an unexpected (though not illogical) ending. The setting was well worked in, with the political background obvious without being intrusive, and I love the fact that it was mainly set in Oakham and Peterborough rather than London or Manchester. It made me think (not necessarily with any justification) of Mad Max, and it definitely has cyberpunk overtones. It’s a lot more grubby and gritty and closer to life than the only other Hamilton I’ve read (The Dreaming Void); if you think you’d have liked William Gibson to set something in the English countryside rather than sleek American or Japanese cities, you’re probably ripe for A Quantum Murder.