Science Fiction Book Review

End of the World Blues

(2006) Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Gollancz, 12.99, hrdbk, 352pp, ISBN 0-575-07616-X

Kit Nouveau, a Gulf War veteran and sniper, tries to escape his past by taking up residence in Japan, running a biker-bar in the Roppongi district with his Japanese wife, a gifted maker of pots. He is leaving behind the death of his friend, Josh, and the affair he had with his former girlfriend, the daughter of a mobster, her mother. Nowadays he teaches English to, and has an affair with, the wife of a Yakusa ganglord. Nijie, a street entertainer, has stolen a lot of money, and most of the time she thinks of herself in her new identity of Lady Neku. But Lady Neku is real and visits the past from her castle, Schloss Omga, at the end of the world. She is about to be married off to the son of one of the six families that maintain the shield around the Earth that keeps the Sun from wiping out all life. The Earth is inhabited by refugees from a former era, shunted forward to a deserted planet, and these are the vassals of the six families. But while in the past Lady Neku loses some of her memories and must recover them from Kit. However, Kit's bar has been destroyed and his wife killed, at the same time as which he discovers from the mobster mother that her daughter is thought to have committed suicide and she wants Kit to prove it isn't so, which draws Kit back to London where he crosses paths with the intelligence and anti-terrorist services. Will Kit discover who has destroyed his bar and killed his wife? Will he discover the fate of his former girlfriend? And will the Lady Neku get her memories back before her wedding?

Running through this multi-layered plot probably makes it all seem very confusing but, as is often the case with Grimwood, it all becomes increasingly clear as you read along. The mysteries are frustrating to begin with, as all good mysteries are, but as the clues build up all the pieces slot neatly into place, including everything from the fate of the former girlfriend, to the fate of the last pot Kit's Japanese wife ever made. Schloss Omga, a giant sentient mountain-climbing snail, steals the show for me, but there is much more besides to wonder at. Grimwood has become very adept at juggling multi-stranded plots and this book is reminiscent of his Stamping Butterflies (2004) in that seemingly unconnected events from widely differing time periods turn out to dovetail in unexpected ways. Perhaps the tone is a little downbeat over all, being something of a lament for lost worlds, both literal and personal, but there is still plenty of hope here to provide a bit of a lift, so it's not unrelentingly gloomy. What else would you expect from the Blues? Highly recommended.

Tony Chester

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