THE CITY & THE CITY By China Miéville, Ballantine, 312 pages, $30
A crossover novel is a daunting task for any author. Creating one fictional universe, one set of characters and one setting, is difficult enough. To construct two, then combine them into a single plot, is daring. That's what makes The City & the City exceptional at the outset. It is, on one hand, a simple murder mystery. On the other, it's an excellent work of science fiction. In both cases, it's engrossing, engaging and fascinating.
Bezel is one of those off-the-beaten-path places in Eastern Europe. Wars, invasions and cultural shifts all passed through. Inspector Tyador Borlu, of the Extreme Crime Squad, is called to the site of a murder of a young woman, probably a prostitute, the police figure. But Borlu's assistant notes the girl's hair is too clean. That's the kind of detail Mieville uses to build his plot, his place - and his other place.
Bezel exists along with another city, Ul Qoma, a doppelganger. Movement between the two cities is forbidden. Even admitting the existence of The Other is a crime. Lines of demarcation, known as Crosshatch, cross walls, streets, alleys. Children are trained to Unsee the streets and people they pass. Any incursion from one to the other means Breach, and that means death.
As Borlu continues to investigate the murder, it becomes clear the victim came from Ul Qoma. Breach has occurred, and it is for Breach to solve the crime, but because the murder was committed in Ul Qoma and the body dumped in Bezel, the powers insist that Borlu investigate. That means he must join forces with his opposite number in Ul Qoma, Constable Lizbyet Corwi.
It's easy to become totally engrossed in Miéville's concept, rip through and not stop to appreciate the carefully constructed plot and elegant prose. Read this slowly and straight through. It's like sipping fine wine.
ALONE IN THE CROWD By Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, translated by Benjamin Moser, Henry Holt, 256 pages, $29.50
This is my first experience with Brazilian writer Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza's delightful Chief Inspector Espinosa, and I am happy to learn that there are six more in translation. Read this and be reminded that some of the finest fiction comes from Latin America, and that no less a luminary than Argentine Jorge Luis Borges started his career with elegantly crafted mystery stories. We can see his shadow in the sure styling and beautifully constructed plot in Alone in the Crowd.
The setting is Rio, where an elderly woman comes into the local police station asking for the chief. Told Espinosa is in a meeting, she says she won't speak to anyone else. She will return. But she doesn't. Shortly after leaving, she's dead. Fallen or pushed under a bus. Espinosa is intrigued. What did she want to tell him? Was that why she died?
From that puzzle, we move to a man who is shadowing Espinosa. He knows his every habit and place. What is he doing and why? The plot here is everything, filled with elegant deduction. If you love good old-fashioned ratiocination with a great setting, you shouldn't miss this book.
ROADSIDE CROSSES By Jeffery Deaver, Simon & Schuster, 397 pages, $29
Roadside Crosses is billed as the third in Deaver's "High-tech Thriller Trilogy." It's certainly a thriller, with plenty of high tech, and it's the third novel featuring Kathryn Dance, of the California Bureau of Investigation. What I can't believe is that with a character this fascinating and plots this tight, Deaver is going to stop at three.
Dance is an expert in kinesics, the science of body language. Speak and she'll read your body to see if you're lying, evading, scared or simply tired.
But Dance's talents seem out of place in an investigation where everything, including the clues, is online. She and deputy Michael O'Neil are on the trail of a teenager who may be a murderer, and who certainly is using skills he learned in role-playing games to elude the police. He may also be using the same skills to find his victims.