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Body Politic

by Paul Johnston

Publishers Weekly 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 musicÄas 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. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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Book list Set after the biblical "Enlightenment" in Edinburgh in 2020, Johnson's utopian novel, which won Britain's John Creasey Award in 1997, tells the story of a former guardsman (police officer) who's trying to track down a serial killer before he or she strikes again. Johnston avoids the long, tedious descriptive passages that have sunk so many utopian novels by having his narrator, Quintilian Dalrymple, tell the story as though we were familiar with twenty-first-century Edinburgh--letting us figure out the difference, for instance, between an auxiliary and a citizen. Thus, while Quint figures out the identity of the killer, the reader has a swell time figuring out the world Quint lives in. At times, however, 2020 Edinburgh seems a tad out-of-focus. Parts of this fictional society are vividly drawn; others, merely hinted at, could have used a little more development. Still, this is a largely successful merging of mystery and science-fiction genres and should satisfy all but the most finicky readers. A natural for Blade Runner fans. --David Pitt

From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.