Fiction Reviews


(2021) Christian Cantrell, Michael Joseph, £16.99, hrdbk, 392pp, ISBN 978-0-241-37132-9


This is an enjoyable romp as our heroine searches for a serial killer. What makes it interesting is that it is not so much a who-dunnit, because we find out fairly soon, but a why-dunnit. It is set only slightly into the future…

Kira lives in the Infinity Moscow Tower, where she earns her living by creating misinformation. She has learn to live with her artificial legs following the serious injuries sustained in a missile attack. One evening, as she looks out over the view, somebody takes command of her cybernetic legs and she finds herself jumping to her death. When her body is examined, they find fresh burn marks on her arm from a malfunctioning charger and they form a four-digit number. The Elite Assassin has struck again.

In Caracas, a young man is taken to a hospital for an MRI scan. Unknown to anyone, his aluminium oxygen tanks had been swapped for ones containing nickel and, when the machine was switched on, the magnetic field sucked them in and crushed him to death. The tanks left an imprint of their four-digit number. In an arena in Los Angeles, Yugen is in the final few minutes of Black Horizon, a v(irtual)-sports tournament. Choosing her moment she fires at her opponent, Prime, and wins the tournament. When she removes her VR headset she sees he really is dead, shot with a real gun. He had a five-digit prime number tattooed on his fingers but one of them has been cut off - leaving another four-digit number.

The Elite Assassin is a mystery. He is clearly a highly skilled serial killer but no-one can figure out how or why he chooses his victims; they are all over the world, of all ages, and have absolutely nothing in common. The only clue is that the bodies are always marked with a random four-digit number, though the markings are as different and ingenious as are the methods of killing.

In the CIA’s George Bush Centre for Intelligence, Vanessa Townes, Deputy Director of Clandestine Services, is addressing her staff. It their last day on their current assignment; the Nuclear Terrorism Non-proliferation Task Force is being stood down and its staff reassigned to other work. Her boss, Alessandro Moretti, requests that one of her staff, Senior Analyst Quinn Mitchell, be assigned to the search for the Elite Assassin. At first Quinn does not want the task but, appreciating the challenge, soon finds herself unable to resist.

Now we meet Ranveer, the richest homeless man in the world. Whilst he has no home of his own, he has a luxury suite permanently available for him at any time at every property owned and operated by the Crystal Collective Worldwide. He travels exclusively with Emirates Airlines, in the very best suite in their most luxurious class of the Boeing 797. The more we learn of him, the more we realise he has long been a very successful and discrete assassin. Marking his kills with numbers is a flag which he would much prefer to do without as it brings unwanted attention; if nothing else, it marks what should have been seen as a strange, or even normal, accident or illness as being the work of a serial killer. That sort of publicity is very bad for his career and he knows that law enforcement all round the world is frantically trying to identify him. But there is a reason for the numbers, and it is inescapable.

As Quinn reviews the cases so far, she notices just one pattern - each victim is younger than the one before. She has also figured out that the assassin must do a lot of travelling and need to do it very quietly, and preferably comfortably. He (she?) will also need a ready supply of discreet accommodation, again preferably comfortable. Quinn is on her way to spotting a pattern and knows that, no matter how careful the assassin is, there will be traces to found as remaining totally out of sight of all cameras, information systems, etc., is impossible. Finding them, though, will be like finding a needle in haystack - but such things can be narrowed down! At the same time, it comes to Ranveer’s attention that Quinn has been assigned to identifying him and he has great respect for her abilities. The race is on - can he finish his task, killing everyone on his list, or will she find him first?

To add to the mix, Alessandro Moretti has another project on the go, this one ultra secret, and so we meet the other major player - Henrietta Yi. Some years earlier, working at the Large Hadron Collider, she had lead a project to analyse the particle accelerator backlog, which is to say the excess data collected by the accelerator. Buried deep in that data she had found what was unequivocally text, some of it as block chains. As she said at the time, it is not where the text is coming from that matters, it is when it is coming from. Deciphering the text, the Epoch Index as it becomes known, becomes very important indeed.

The pages turned easily as the characters slowly converged on each other. I found the story well written and nicely paced. It held my interest as I learnt this and that about our characters, about Quinn’s history and analytical ways, and the assassin’s skills as described by Ranveer. The author succeeded in keeping me enjoyably entertained as I wondered where it was going until the pieces fell together as the story neared its end. It was a journey worth taking.

Peter Tyers

See also Steven's review of Scorpion.


[Up: Fiction Reviews Index | SF Author: Website Links | Home Page: Concatenation]

[One Page Futures Short Stories | Recent Site Additions | Most Recent Seasonal Science Fiction News]

[Updated: 22.9.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]