Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Suspect Genome by Peter F Hamilton, SSM - Interzone

We are so chuffed to complete our Short Story Month with a guest review by Mark Chitty from Walker of Worlds. Now, I have a lot of respect for Mark - the guy knows his sci fi. Between him and Gav and MFB's Mark, they do encourage me to read outside my comfort zone, and I've yet to be disappointed. Here is his review he submitted to MFB for SSM.


The Suspect Genome is a short story by Peter F Hamilton, published in Interzone and winner of the British Science Fiction Association Award for best short in 2000. It’s a Greg Mandel story, the main character from his first three novels (Mindstar Rising, A Quantum Murder and The Nano Flower), and set just after the events of A Quantum Murder.

While the story features psychic former soldier Greg Mandel (he can essentially see when people lie), and I label it as such, it doesn’t focus solely on him, but rather on both him and Detective Amanda Patterson, a character that also featured in A Quantum Murder. The Suspect Genome is a detective story that follows the investigation into the death of Byrne Tyler, a c-list celebrity who was found dead at the foot of his stairs with the skin of an unknown attacker under his fingernails. The story follows Amanda’s investigation into the murder and also the story of Greg and his wife Eleanor whose father was killed in a hit and run accident.

First things first, the story is set out in such a manner that we see different aspects at different times. It’s split into three parts: The Dodgy Deal, A Suspicious Fall and Degrees of Guilt, each focusing on different aspects of the story. The first part sets the scene with a set up being made, while part two introduces the actual investigation, and part three contains the explanations and various other bits of important information. Of course, as such stories go it’s very difficult to balance what I say so not to give away the ending to anyone wanting to read it but hasn’t as yet. So, if you don’t want to know the specifics then just skip the next paragraph…

Byrne Tyler has been found dead, and while it looks like an accident the forensic report throws up the skin of an unknown person under his fingernails. He’s in a relationship with Tamzin Sullivan, another minor celebrity, but is also sleeping with her younger sister Claire on the side, and unbeknownst to anyone else. Tyler not only limits his relations to these two women, but has slept with a string of celebrities - and filmed each one. Claire was the last person to see Tyler the night he died and protests her innocence, her sister and mother think she’s responsible, while she is left to look after her younger, and very visibly upset, 10 year old brother. Meanwhile, Richard Townsend is trying to get hold of the land that Eleanor’s father and family live on as part of a kibbutz, but her father refuses all offers made. After an apparent accident her father is seriously injured and dies later on. With me so far? As there is no direct evidence that Townsend had her father killed, but him being the obvious suspect, Greg manages to come to an arrangement with the agency that he can set him up to take the wrap for Tyler’s murder, with a little trickery and conning going on to cement the evidence. However, Amanda knows that Greg is playing her, but doesn’t know why – until the final line of the novel reveals the identity of the true murderer.

Okay, spoilers now over! What Peter F Hamilton has done with The Suspect Genome is create a very interesting and well plotted detective novel. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its bad points, but on the whole it was a very satisfying read. The suspect genome of the title is that little bit of evidence that they find under Tyler’s fingernails, and with advanced techniques the DNA from this evidence can be used to provide an image of the murderer. It can show the person at different ages throughout their life and the tests they run can’t identify him at all. It’s all pretty good stuff, but ultimately it leads to some dubious moral questions, perhaps the biggest downside to this story.

This is where I have issues with The Suspect Genome – it just feels wrong that things go the way they do. I doubt I’d do it any differently if I was in the same position, but after reading the three Greg Mandel books I didn’t put his character down as doing what he does, to me it feels slightly wrong.

However, despite this concern I thoroughly enjoyed The Suspect Genome and it’s written with such precision, always laying everything in front of you and letting them drop into place. Fans of Peter’s Greg Mandel novels should pick this up, but it’s also short enough and self contained enough that not having read the two novels that are set before this time is not a drawback at all. Definitely recommended from me!

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