Science Fiction Book Review

9 Tail Fox

(2005) Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Gollancz, 12.99, hrdbk, 328pp, ISBN 0-575-07615-1


Bobby Zha is a sergeant in the San Francisco police force and, unfortunately for him, he's just been shot dead. It took two hours to die, he remembers. Which is a bit disturbing; remembering things, what with being dead an' all. He wakes in the, until then comatose, body of Robert Vanberg in a medical facility in New York who, luck would have it, is filthy rich. Bobby, naturally enough wants to get back to San Fran and find out who murdered him, but first he has to prove he's Robert Vanberg in order to be released from care (and get his hands on the money). Then there's the other little matter: the Celestial 9-Tailed Fox who has been appearing to Bobby... Once he's in San Francisco Bobby fraudulently gets himself attached to the investigation of his death which, it turns out, isn't much of an investigation. Meanwhile a child called Natalie Persikov has supposedly shot dead a burgler at her grandfather's home. But did she really do it? And what secret does Dr. Persikov have that stretches back to 1942 in Stalingrad. Bobby assigns himself to investigate this too. Then there's his daughter, Kris, to worry about, now he's dead. Can he befriend her now, as he couldn't when he was alive. It's already a lot to be getting on with when he becomes the lover of policewoman Flic Valdez. Who'd have thought being dead could be so complicated...

Grimwood serves up another helping of science fantasy and noir mystery, this time mixed with Chinese myth (rather than North African) in a pacy, at times surreal, murder mystery. Dirty partners, KGB agents and Germans, loved ones in peril and a mad scientist, what more could you ask for? Combining the mystery of Pashazade with the Chinese motif from Stamping Butterflies Grimwood stays at the top of his form in this latest offering. Stamping Butterflies itself is now available in a paperback edition (Gollancz, 6.99, 425pp, ISBN 0-575-07650-X) which juxtaposes a 'past' plotline where the US President is almost assassinated by a man who may just have the secret to interstellar travel, with a 'future' plotline where the Emperor of a vast sectioned Dyson sphere, that houses 148 billion humans, awaits his own assassination while refusing to co-operate with the AI that has made him what he is. The Emperor wonders, could time travel change this future? And, if it could, then what must he do to ensure his world never comes to pass? It's good that this came out before 9 Tail Fox, otherwise Grimwood might have been in danger of becoming thought of by some as a one trick pony (not that it's like no one else loves to dabble in SF noir - thinking of Richard Morgan, KW Jeter and Bill Gibson, to name but a few...). Both highly recommended.

Tony Chester

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