by Paul Johnston
: This bleak, near-future hunt for a vicious serial killer won Britain's Creasy Award for best first novel and should capture admiring attention here as well. In the year 2020, Edinburgh is a virtual city-state (founded on the ideas of Plato's Republic) ruled by a benevolently despotic council riddled with corruption. This highly regimented society has lost most traces of individualism. Gone, too, are televisions, private cars, unsanctioned books and music--as well as most crime, at least until the reemergence of a serial killer known as the ENT (ear, nose and throat) man for his bizarre attentions to his victims. Shocked by the first murder in five years, the council is desperate enough to bring back disgraced private investigator Quintilian Dalrymple, a jazz-loving iconoclast with previous experience of the ENT man. Johnston's spare style doesn't hinder him from effectively limning a society drastically altered by desperate circumstances, and, at the same, spinning a thoroughly entertaining chase novel. Edinburgh's physical and spiritual transformation makes an intriguing backdrop, while Quint, a private eye of the classic mold contending with inept bureaucrats, corruption and a determined killer, makes a first-rate hero. Offbeat but on target, this is one exciting debut.
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