Kristine Kathryn Rusch,
The Disappeared
(Roc, 2002)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's novel The Disappeared is at once a fascinating futuristic novel and a gripping thriller.

In Rusch's version of the future, human colonization and interrelationships among alien species has led to a whole new definition of multiculturalism. The most important outcome is in the interpretation of law: if a human violates the law of an alien culture, however unintentionally, that culture has the right to exact its own penalty, regardless of what that penalty is.

Those wishing to avoid alien forms of justice can pay a "disappearance" agency to relocate them with a new identity that will allow them to start a new life as one of the Disappeared. For thousands of people, the disappearance agency provided a reprieve somewhat like our federal witness protection program. In this case, however, the Disappeared are fugitives from justice.

Miles Flint, a newly promoted detective in Armstrong Dome on Earth's moon, is surprised when an assignment takes him back to the Port where he spent so many years as a police officer in the traffic division. The case concerns a recovered space yacht containing three eviscerated bodies, clearly the result of an alien vengeance killing. Then Flint and his partner, the brusque and abrasive Noelle DeRicci, are sent to investigate a possible kidnaping involving two human children and another alien culture. But it's when the detectives are assigned a third case involving a woman sought by a third alien culture that Flint begins to see a connection among the cases. He uncovers a terrible system of betrayal that is perfectly legal and challenges his personal concept of integrity.

Rusch propels the reader through her story, using shifting scenes and points of view to add suspense. Her characters are genuine, with authentic emotions and wholly credible reactions and responses. She doesn't manipulate the reader's emotions; rather, she touches them lightly, like a finger on a harp string, and they resonate fully.

The Disappeared is a science-fiction novel, but the genre-related details serve to support the narrative, not dominate it. I could imagine the story told in a fantasy setting, with the circumstances adapted to that genre and indeed, there are some fairy tale elements in the book, whether by accident or design.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a solid reputation as a writer and editor, and The Disappeared upholds and enhances that reputation.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 7 September 2002

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