Adam Roberts’s new book, Jack Glass: the Story of a Murderer, is a book that attempts to link the classic mystery pattern of the locked room puzzle with a space adventure with political overtones. While science fiction is not normally what I read anymore, I was attracted to this title by the idea of, not one, but three crimes being committed in a confined area with no access or egress.
To get the plot out of the way, the three stories are connected by the fact that they all involve the galaxy-famous murderer, Jack Glass. Jack is a legend in many interstellar communities, not unlike Jack the Ripper. He is feared most by the Ulanov family, the ruling dynasty in the galaxy. The careful alliances of lesser family dynasties is held together by the Ulanovs by a fierce police force that roams from planetary body to planetary body maintaining order. In reality, it is less Jack’s murderous ways and more his revolutionary ones that keep him in the forefront of everyone’s concern.
The first novella in the book concerns a crew of seven prisoners dumped on an asteroid called Lamy306 to mine for eleven years in order to work off their sentences. Abandoned with nothing but a meager ability to build atmosphere and grow a low-level food source, the men quickly form alliances that may be symbolic of the families that rule the galaxies. It is not giving anything away to say that one of the men is Jack.
The second novella is almost Nancy Drew like in its setup. Two young sisters, Diana and Eva, from the information gathering family clan the Argents, are sent to Earth to adjust to gravity when a servant is murdered. Diana, having played many mystery computer games, is the candidate selected by her family to solve the mystery. This novella has the most references to the crime fiction genre including many Golden Age writers and their techniques.
The last novella finds the merry band of survivors from the first two novellas fleeing across the galaxy and away from the pursuit of Bar-Le-Duc, the famous police detective. Another locked room murder occurs and the novels are resolved based on the consequences of actions in all three parts.
I found the basic idea intriguing and enjoyed the storytelling quite a bit. The characters are unique and fun to read about. The cross-genre blending only adds spice to an already complicated dish. And, of course, the theme of the book has both something to do with and nothing to do with the crimes thus showing its literary muscle. I think a book discussion group with adventurous readers will find plenty to discuss here and have a sense of wonder while they do.