In the Blood is a science fiction novel by Robert J Sullivan.
The Utu festival was only three days old when the first body was found, 22 year old Gloria Ashlock, naked except for her shoes, lashed to a column in a warehouse and stabbed 35 times. The discovery was a shock but not a surprise to the police on Procrustes; they'd found eleven bodies during last year's festival and nine the year before.
The humans, who had arrived a quarter century before, would scream and blame it on the indifference of the native Zherghi to crimes against anyone but themselves. The Council had agreed if the murders began again they would take action. They brought in a human detective. When Sam Dane arrived he found a city given over to drunken debauchery, with the police overwhelmed by the manic festival and the killer leaving new victims day after day.
Not speaking the language and unable to read clues on alien faces, Dane looks for any thread to follow back to the predator. Amid the chaos, where every action is colored by species, alcohol, sex, violence, greed, ambition and politics, Dane works against time and the odds to keep the murders from destroying the city. He discovers that it's easier to bury bodies than secrets, and that there are worse crimes than murder.
In the Blood is a detective novel at heart mixed within a science fiction setting and featuring a distinctly different race to the humans being murdered. There is a minimal amount of back-story to begin with, enough to explain the essentials without bogging down the plot and the characters receive likewise treatment, enough that they aren't two dimensional drawings without giving away anything but the essentials. We find out more and more about the world of Procrustes as the story develops and we get dragged deeper and deeper into the hidden world of the Zherghi. This culture is both rich and complicated and explained in such a way that really brings them to life. You could almost imagine that there is a planet out there where the Zerghi live.
The principal protagonist is portrayed very well, a clearly accomplished detective who is at the top of his game but also realistic about his chosen field. The author has clearly researched the methodology behind police work and murder investigations and this homework pays off with a realistic depiction of just how detectives could track a serial killer with little real knowledge to go on, few eye witnesses and no DNA.
This is all nicely complicated with the inclusion of a very different race and culture, impeding Dane's progress and making everything he has to do all the more difficult. The technology is nicely underplayed, with the focus firmly placed on the developing story and the Zherghi.
The novel is written in a relaxed yet structured fashion that allows the plot to proceed at a good pace while the alien culture is well described and makes reading the novel very comfortable, the prose flows very smoothly. There is plenty of plot twists and turns to keep the interest and the pace becomes faster and faster towards the superb ending. It's one of novels that sticks in your head even when your not reading and one that you just have to read one more page before you put it down.
In the Blood is a great piece of fiction, with excellent characterisation and a deep alien culture that will leave you wanting for more, recommended.
Written on 23rd December 2010 by Ant.
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