China Mieville is one of the more clever writers in any genre. In The City and the City he as written a murder mystery, but one in a place like no other. The cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma reside in the same temporal space connected by crosshatches. And in-between is a shadowy nowhere, the Breach. The boundaries of the two cities are strictly enforced, mostly, so the citizens of each city have learned to "unsee" the other city to avoid entering the wrong temporal space that would put them in Breach. Being in Breach is a bad thing. It can make you disappear. Sound confusing? That's okay. You'll get used to it once you've inhabited the cities for a time.
Within these cities, well, Beszel is where it starts, a horrific murder of a young woman takes place and we are introduced to our interlocutor, detective Tyador Borlu of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad. Borlu's search for the mysterious killer takes us across the cities, across unseen boundaries, in what is in the end, a rather intricate but not atypical murder mystery. As it turns out, the murder takes place in Ul Qoma but the body winds up in a desolate area of Beszel. This makes the murder even more mysterious as it's not easy to pass through the cities without breaching.
Borlu's investigation becomes a political hot potato and takes him to the shadowy underworlds of fringe political groups like the "unifs" who want to unify the two cities, to the True Citizens, who are ultra-nationalists wanting power for their particular city. It also takes him to Ul Qoma where the murdered young lady last resided, working on a doctorate at an archeological dig that predates the splitting of the cities. It turns out she was into some rather strange beliefs herself, one of which was there is yet a third and all powerful city, Orciny, occupying this same temporal zone. That put her in a lot of hot water with a lot of fringe political groups so she had plenty of enemies and the suspects abound. And it introduces us to a mystery within a mystery. Does Orciny really exist, or is just an urban legend? And what might the murdered young lady's search for Orciny have to do with her violent demise? I guess we'll have to find that out too.
Borlu is a dedicated detective and wants justice for the murdered young woman so he works tirelessly to that end doing what most detectives do – poking his nose all over the place until some type of pattern or answers emerge. And slowly they do emerge and they get very weird indeed. As simply a very good mystery story, this novel works extremely well. Its setting and complexity make it superb.
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