Fiction Reviews

Curse the Day

(2020) Judith O'Reilly, Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, 415pp, ISBN 978-1-788-54894-6


We quite often get sent books which aren’t really science fiction but which have some tenuous connection, as if that would tempt us genre folk in. This is one of them.

The SF in Curse the Day is a McGuffin. A Skynet-style self-aware artificial intelligence (AI) called Syd with no three laws or robotics to hold it back. End of the world, right? Except that the plot involves some crime and violence caper designed to stop Syd from breaking loose. And since the AI remains boxed in, the closest we get to anything not of this world is an automated kill zone in a London basement.

So this is definitively not science fiction (at least in my opinion). But is it a good crime book? It’s got all the caper caricatures you could ask for – femme fatale, flawed hero (with a bullet in his brain as a unique and scarcely credible twist), cold, hard, ultra-attractive female assassin, annoying super-bright teenage girl, corrupt, self-obsessed politician with a plot-convenient twin brother, violent but stupid general giant sidekick, distinctive, double-crossing ruthless boss (this one with one eye and an annoying smoking ritual), etc, etc – and the plot fair speeds along through one convoluted incident after another.

Michael North, an assassin who killed a lot of important people in a previous novel, is hiding out in Berlin when he gets the call to adventure and is repatriated to the UK hidden in a coffin (in an unnecessary action for action’s sake sequence). He’s recruited by the one-eyed man (Hone), who is high up in the Home Office, to protect his niece, Esme, who’s married to computer genius and Syd inventor Tobias Hawke, who is about to set Syd free for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. But then there’s an attack at the British Museum where Hawke is about to reveal Syd to the world and Hawke is murdered. Who killed him? Will Syd break free? Will North forgive the cold-hearted assassin who killed Syd's wife (and so, presumably, forgive himself for obviously fancying her)? And who (or what) is behind the mayhem that threatens teenage super-hacker Fang’s mum, Esme Hawkes life and the world-destroying rise of the machines (sadly only hinted – once with an overt Sarah Connor reference – and never explored)?

So lots for action fans who like broad-brush characters and witty one-liners. And it is great fun so long as you don’t take it too seriously. Lots of references to Fang’s ‘Joe 90’ glasses bothered me though – is the author only going for a 60+ audience? If so, I think she might find we’ve moved on.

Mark Bilsborough

See also Peter's review of Curse the Day.


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