Book review: Standard Hollywood Depravity / Killing Is My Business, by Adam Christopher

20 02 2018

Adam Christopher is a NZ-born science fiction writer, comics writer, and editor, now living in the UK. He has written several standalone or short series SF novels and won a Sir Julius Vogel Award in 2010 as editor of the NZ Doctor Who Club fanzine, Time/Space Visualiser. I’ve previously reviewed the first of his ‘Ray Electromatic’ mysteries, Made to Kill, here.

Standard Hollywood Depravity and Killing Is My Business, released only a few months apart, are the second and third book-length contibutions in the ‘Ray Electromatic’ series (there’s also an online novelette, ‘Brisk Money’, in the same series).

StandardHollywoodDepravity

The novella Standard Hollywood Depravity sees last-robot-in-the-world Ray Electromatic (ostensibly a PI, in actuality now a hired killer) on the job at a Sunset Strip nightclub, where he’s been contracted to take out a go-go dancer, Honey, who’s working at the club. It’s a simple enough assignment, but Ray’s curiosity-simulating software is piqued by the presence of a surprisingly large contingent of LA’s hired killers for what is a rather uninspired performance by nondescript British Invasion band the Hit List. Reasoning that they’re not simply there for the music, Ray surmises that something bigger is afoot; as indeed it is. Something that his target, Honey, is every bit as mixed-up in as anyone else among the nightclub’s underworld notables.

KillingIsMyBusiness

In the novel Killing Is My Business, Ray is hired to wipe out city planner Vaughan Delaney, but he’s beaten to it when Delaney leaps from his sixth-floor window, in what might be termed an act of auto-defenestration (a particularly apt term given that the object which fatally breaks the planner’s fall is Delaney’s own car. Moving right along, Ray’s next target is construction impressario Emerson Ellis, but again the robot assassin is thwarted: Ellis has gone to ground. Ray’s next gig, at least, goes to plan, though it’s a complicated plan and nothing is as it seems. He’s hired to keep reclusive LA crime kingpin Zeus Falzarano alive (for the time being) by shielding him from the bullets in an arranged bloodbath at an upscale Italian restaurant, where dozens of Falzarano’s heat-packing, sunglass-wearing footsoldiers are messily perforated by machine-gun fire. This achieved, Ray is welcomed into the Falzarano fold as a useful bodyguard and resourceful hired gun … as per the plan, which requires Ray to work out just what it is that Falzarano is working on. After all, where there’s a crime kingpin, there’s usually a nefarious scheme …

Both tales are pacy and peppered with a tough whimsicality, making good use of Ray’s Achilles heel: he may well be nearly indestructible, but his memory tape only has a capacity of twenty-four hours, meaning that he starts every day more-or-less afresh, privy only to the information in his core memory and the salient details that his AI comptroller, Ada, has seen fit to pass on to today’s iteration of Ray. Additionally, it’s never straightforward to predict when Ray’s problem-solving will employ his PI skills and when it will divert to the ‘hired killer’ option. These wrinkles usefully add to the tension, and the blend of clunky roboticism and noirish sensibilities do give the books a definite wry appeal. Nonetheless, I was a little disappointed that these sequels seemed to less effectively channel the Raymond Chandler spirit, in dialogue and description, than did the series’ first book Made To Kill. There’s also a sense in which too much of the books’ action takes place, respectively, in the nightclub and in the heavily-fortified Falzarano compound: one of the things which, to my mind, made Made To Kill so successful as a standardbearer for Chandlerish robocrime was its deployment of a broad range of mid-century LA settings as the story arc made repeated midflight corrections, and that’s missing in these two later books. It would be incorrect to say that they plod—they certainly don’t, and there’s still lots of fun to be had within their pages—but they don’t sing quite so well as their predecessor.

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