Kristine Kathryn Rusch,
(Roc, 2004)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has an extremely impressive resume. She's the former editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. She co-founded Pulphouse Publishing. She's a Hugo Award-winning short fiction writer. And she's produced more than 50 novels in the science fiction and mystery genres.

But, despite the accolades, there's something about that kind of prodigious output that suggests the phrase, "quantity over quality." So it was with some trepidation that I launched in to Consequences, my first Rusch novel. And while the book wasn't breathtaking, it was certainly entertaining, clever and briskly plotted.

Consequences is billed as "a Retrieval Artist Novel." It's the third book to center around Miles Flint, a former cop from the Armstrong police force. Armstrong is one of the moon's domed cities and Flint is now a wealthy, self-employed investigator specializing in locating people who have been "disappeared" for political or dubious legal reasons.

The disappeared in this case is one Carolyn Lahiri, former freedom fighter for the resistance movement on the planet Etae. With the Etaen government now attempting to gain legitimacy and political favor, Lahiri and her compatriots have been pardoned. But shortly after Flint locates Lahiri and reunites her with her parents, the entire family is assassinated and Miles becomes the prime suspect in the murders.

Rusch uses a rather unwieldy number of viewpoint characters to tell this complex story. And in the end I felt that my attentions were being pulled in too many directions. In addition to Flint's perspective, we explore the events of this case (and the larger case it uncovers) from the point of view of Noelle DeRicci, Miles' former police partner, now an assistant chief of detectives; Adam Soseki, the mayor of Armstrong; Anatolya Dobryn, former Etaen rebel leader who has become a pivotal player in the current administration on her planet; Orenda Kreise, a diplomat who opposes Etae's application to join the Earth Alliance; restaurateur Nitara Nicolae, hired to cater the Etae/Alliance meetings; Lyli D'lap, a terrorist posing as a jeweler; and a killer-for-hire named Kovac. Add to this list dozens of secondary, non-viewpoint characters and you'll get a sense of the kaleidoscopic approach to plot that Rusch takes in Consequences.

It's too, too much. I suspect the intent was to demonstrate the complexity of the political landscape and the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate events. However, for the opening third of the novel, during which the reader is first encountering these characters, the technique serves mostly to confuse. And several of the characters end up feeling sketchy and incomplete. It's only once the novel settles down to focus on Flint, DeRicci, Dobryn and, to a lesser extent, Soseki that the story really starts to click.

This quartet offers up a sufficiently diverse palate for Rusch's portrait of a murder investigation with a multitude of hidden dimensions. If Rusch had kept to this tighter focus, Consequences could have been a wonderful book. As it stands, the novel is, to quote Locus Magazine, "like a popular TV series crossed with a Spielberg film -- engaging." Glossy, gripping, but lacking the depth that could have made it great.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 2 October 2004

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