Thursday, June 16, 2022

Killing Is My Business by Adam Christopher

If I say anything here that might be construed as a complaint, let me say first that I got this book as a review copy five years ago, and that I only just managed to read it now. It's also the fourth book in a series, and the only one I've read.

What I'm saying is: I'm pretty sure I'm responsible for any confusion, doubt and uncertainty here. If anything I write below sounds enticing, you might be best off finding the first book in the series, Brisk Money, and starting there. [1]

Raymond Electromatic is the only robot PI in early 1960s Los Angeles. Well, he's apparently the only functioning robot left anywhere, but he's a PI. Well, he was a PI when the series started, and now pretends to be a PI. But the mainframe who is his boss, Ada, realized sometime between the first book and the third one (I'm not sure exactly when) that Ray could make more money as an assassin for hire, and so that's what he does now.

Thought One: Ray and Ada do seem to have an oddly nonexistent relationship with the authorities. There used to be a Department of Robot Labor, and it may start up again, but no sheriffs or city cops or federal agents or other government officials seem to ever talk to the only remaining intelligent robot in the world, or to a mainframe that seems to be vastly more intelligent and manipulative. (This may have been a plot point in a previous book.)

Thought Two: How exactly does an immobile mainframe find clients looking for assassin services? Particularly when Ray is her only hands or mobility device? Frankly, I feel like Ray should spend a lot more time just doing maintenance on Ada, not to mention every other requiring-hands task, unless this is a Plot Point in a previous book.

Thought Three: Ray is very much an unreliable narrator: his memory tape lasts only twenty-four hours, and so he forgets everything that happened in the past, except for the things programmed into his permanent memory (language, detecting skills, driving a car, killing people, geography - stuff like that). So while there's a lot of stuff that I could ponder "how does this work?", author Adam Christopher has explicitly set up this series so his hero and narrator doesn't know those things - and, even more fun, tells the reader things that he will himself forget by the next chapter.

It's a neat noirish device, Gene Wolfe's Latro as mediated by Raymond Chandler, and that plus the excellent voice Ray uses to narrate makes Killing Is My Business a fun, zippy read that I got through in record time. Whatever else I say about it, this book is deeply entertaining - and the things I could quibble about are quite likely things Christopher has built in, but that Ray doesn't understand or notice.

The actual plot here is a bit loose and minimal, or at least it seems so from Ray's point of view. Every day, he wakes up in an alcove and Ada tells him what he needs to know: where to go, what to detect, who (if anyone) to kill. This time out, he starts out shadowing a city planner, and then unsuccessfully looks for a real estate magnate. But most of the book is about how Ray infiltrates the inner circle of a mobster in order to find out some secrets (the nature of said secrets are not revealed to Ray, though he is told he'll know them when he finds them) before he knocks off the guy.

That works fine for Ray's laconic narration: the typical PI novel is about going places, looking for and/or talking to people, and that's what Ray does. He does spend rather less time murdering humans than I expected from the premise, actually.

The ending is rather less conclusive than I expected in what I thought was the fourth book in a mystery/thriller series about a robot detective. But, as you will know if you have read my footnote, this is actually the middle book of what I gather is inherently a science-fictional trilogy, and so cliffhangers and lots of tension are to be expected. 

All in all, it was fun and I enjoyed it, but my main takeaway is that this is not the book to start with if you want to read about Ray Electromatic. Learn from my mistakes, O Best Beloved, and do better yourselves.

[1] Oh, wait. It looks like two of the four books listed on the card page as "The Ray Electromatic Mysteries" are not, strictly speaking, books. Elsewhere, I learn that Brisk Money and Standard Hollywood Depravity are both novellas (and thus secondary?) and that the only actual previous book is Made to Kill, which implies the PI-to-assassin switch happened pretty quickly.

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