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Monday, December 28, 2009

Halfhead. Stuart B. Macbride. HarperVoyager (2009)


A very savage science fiction thriller, gripping and imaginative. Sometime in the future serious criminals are lobotomised and mutilated and set to menial and public tasks as a punishment and a warning. One of them recovers her memory and sense of self and starts to climb back to life, which is a problem as she is a terrifyingly efficient serial killer. At the same time Assistant Section Director William Hunter, working with a branch of the police service call the Network, finds himself drawn into a murder at Shermam House, the site of a huge and murderous riots years previously. Slowly the paths of both the revived half head and ASD Hunter start to overlap and the threads of the past become woven into the present. The story is superbly structured, the reveals are cunningly paced, the action is brutal and the climax nasty and explosive.
Stuart B. Macbride has neatly solved how to blend two genres, serial killer thriller and science fiction dystopia without a loss to either. The context for the action is carefully set up and it feels solid and real. Glasgow feels like a member of the cast, the sprawling city comes to life, the details of the technology and the weapons are nicely placed, understated and accepted. Explanations arise from the activities of the cast which gives the context great force. Stuart B. Macbride has a very strong grasp on how large organisations work, the way that the staff within them react to each other and to staff from other organisations. This gives his cast a very effective workplace and allows for a large cast to respond and react to each other with real vigour and tension. Dr. Westfield is a very frightening villain, passionate about her murderous mission and enjoying her work, she provides a real threat throughout the story. The echos of the Hannibal Lector novels are slightly intrusive, they do not overshadow the story, this is very much a work in its own right. Excellent, gory , gripping.

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