Although primarily known for his crime novels, Chris Brookmyre’s love of genre fiction has been evident throughout his career, and Places in the Darkness merges the investigatory structure of his noir novels with straight up sci-fi.
It takes place aboard a space station where scientists and engineers work to create the interstellar ark that will allow humanity to reach and colonise other worlds. Although presented to the Earth below (and briefly to the reader) as a technological utopia where everyone operates in unified harmony, it is in fact the proverbial wretched hive where every conceivable human vice is catered to its hard-grafting populace, to the extent that throughout the book the actual work they undertake barely gets a look in.
Chief among its denizens is Nikki Fixx, an extortionist, racketeer, smuggler and fixer whose corrupt decadence is second only to her self-loathing. Caught up in the station’s first ever murder, she reluctantly ends up teamed with Alice Blake, a newly arrived and unblemished criminologist investigator soon to take over control of the station’s security. The narrative alternates between the diametric perspectives of the two women, each an extreme of the human condition, and over time they are enough of an influence on one another to allow them to reach middle ground and uncover the conspiracy festering at the heart of this supposed shining beacon representing the hope for humanity’s future.
Right from his debut over two decades ago, Brookmyre has been an avid chronicler of the depths to which people can sink, and his vision of the far future is no exception. The book’s title refers not only to the station’s location eternally spinning in cold space – all alone in the night, to borrow a turn of phrase from a not entirely unrelated source – but also the shadowed corners of our own minds where we keep hidden the desires and depravities we want to conceal from the world.
That such debauchery is indulged by almost every character encountered would seem to correspond with this, but it’s tempered by the very fact that they are involved in a project that will see them all long dead before its ultimate goal is realised, suggesting both that humanity does have a future other than self-destruction, and also another meaning for the title; that in those places there still shines a glimmer of light.
PLACES IN THE DARKNESS / AUTHOR: CHRIS BROOKMYRE / PUBLISHER: ORBIT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW