Adam Roberts’ books are definitely for those people who want extra layers in the stories they read. On the surface, The Real-Town Murders is a locked room mystery, albeit in a future setting, but it’s also about how governments seek to control and manipulate their citizens. The future technology is written from the point of view of someone who clearly keeps up-to-date with technological advancements of now.

Conspiracy is possible. Dead bodies appearing from nowhere is not.

Alma is called in to investigate a murder at a wholly automated car factory, where humans aren’t allowed on the shop floor, well not in person. The body was found inside a newly made car, with no evidence to how the killer got in or out.

It’s not an unusual thought to wonder how VR could transform our work lives. Imagine not having to commute, just logging in from home and interacting with your colleagues as if you were there. Think how liberating it would be not to be restrained by proximity to work when choosing where to live. This future does not have a housing crisis.

Life is all about the compromises people make between desire and finances. Or, more precisely: life in the real world was all about those compromises. The Shine was different.

It’s taken a bit further than that, a lot of people now live in cupboards because they rarely leave the Shine. They get their exercise in mesh suits whilst their mind is elsewhere. Towns in the real world have re-branded in attempt to lure people back Real-Town was once Reading, Basingstoke is now BasingStoked! Even the White Cliffs of Dover have had a face lift.

Of course, in this kind of world there’s a lot to say about surveillance and data privacy. What exactly do you sacrifice in exchange for the life you have in the Shine? And what are the disadvantages if you’re one of the few not connected?

Alma is a carer, as well as a private investigator, one who has no chance to pass her duties on. Her partner Marguerite is living with genehacked malware, which requires treatment every four hours and four minutes. Alma’s DNA has been coded into the cure so only she can administer it. As you can imagine, this is problematic when you’re wanted by the authorities and it doesn’t help that Marguerite is too large to leave their home. It really adds an element of urgency to the story.

The two great dangers of governance are complacency and cruelty.

Women are not sidelined in this science fiction nor are they stereotypes. Alma is tough but she is also capable of crying, of caring deeply for the woman she loves despite hardship. It definitely passes the Bechdel test with most the key characters being women, even the baddies.

The Real-Town Murders is published by Gollancz and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 24th August 2017. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.