RogerBW's Blog

Delete All Suspects, Donna Andrews 22 December 2014

2005 SF/mystery. Turing Hopper, an AI emergent from research assistant software, looks into the affairs of a techie who's been hit by a car and is now in intensive care. Was it an accident?

Where the first book in the series was clearly set in a divergent future, later volumes have been closer to the real world apart from the presence of AIs, and this one turns up the technobabble (albeit mostly accurate technobabble) in an apparent attempt to hide its lack of meaty plot. There are some good bits, in particular an audacious impersonation, but mostly it's just rolling along in a predictable way. It's basically a private-investigator story where one of the team is an AI, and distracting subplots don't hide the problem that the AI isn't entirely necessary to the story. Yes, the characters do their things, but they seem to be even more sanded-down than before (apart from a good moment in hospital for Tim); even Claudia's starting to feel a little blah. KingFischer turns up just to act rather out of character, and there's plenty of moralising (all the human good guys automatically regard porn sites as Evil, rather more so than they do spamming – even legal porn, insofar as that's a meaningful concept to them). And everybody's ready to look down on the badly-injured fellow who was so sloppy as to ask his friends to act as backup sysadmins for his no-budget private server farm when he was away, rather than employing someone.

It's another series entry, and while the call to action at the end may be welcome it should have happened two books earlier. As this seems likely to have been the final book in the series, it's particularly disappointing that the big running plot (at least since Click Here for Murder) didn't get materially closer to resolution.

I can see why Andrews dropped this series to concentrate on Meg Lanslow, even without knowing the sales figures; this book feels as though it's floundering, and that it was hard work to write. Concentrating on the AI plots would alienate the mystery readers; the SF readers had probably already dropped the series when the SF content got toned down. Even so, if Andrews ever publishes another I'll certainly read it.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 11:43am on 22 December 2014

    I'm spotting a trend across your book reviews. Series sometimes improve in the second book, and then almost invariably head downhill from there. And the long running threads never get resolved, the authors keep stringing them out presumably to get readers to keep coming back hoping for progress on them which never materialises.

    I've also noticed that any series off the beaten track eithers veers towards a standard genre or gets dropped. Which is sad.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 03:48pm on 22 December 2014

    Except that there have been at least two series this year which didn't follow that pattern: Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London and Max Gladstone's Three Parts Dead were both great, but both crashed with the second book, at least for me. This series I think wasn't intended to be one at first; I'm guessing the initial book was well received so Andrews wrote a sequel introducing the long-running elements.

    It's a standard problem in any serial medium where the existence of chunk N depends on the popularity of chunk N-1: chances are it'll end abruptly on a bad note, because it's the unpopular book (or TV season) that causes the next one not to be made. Some smart TV companies are now saying to their producers "OK, this will definitely be the last season, so wind up anything you can".

    It's much harder to sell people a book if they think they have to have read a bunch of other books first. And lots of readers really do follow the genre tags and get annoyed if they're violated.

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