The best fiction immerses the reader in a vividly evoked world. Nick Harkaway is no stranger to expert worldbuilding, having written four highly acclaimed science fiction novels. He’s also a fan of darkly comic crime fiction, having delivered a couple of terrific slices of noir under the penname Aidan Truhen. His latest novel, Titanium Noir, combines these two loves to deliver a story that is simultaneously a down-and-dirty crime tale and a wonderfully expansive and visionary piece of speculative fiction.
In the future, a revolutionary gene therapy called T7 has created an elite band of humans called Titans who are giants with immense strength and longevity. Only the richest and most privileged can afford the therapy, and it makes the Titans almost godlike on earth. So when one of their number is found murdered, it’s a real shock. Enter world-weary detective Cal Sounder, handed the case by the police because he has some previous history with Titans, and might be better able to navigate their enigmatic world.
The first thing that strikes you about Titanium Noir is the heavily stylised prose, dripping with irony and sarcasm, dead-eyed and downbeat but also funny as hell. Cal Sounder is terrific company, a heart of gold buried very deep in a ramshackle body, he negotiates the worlds of Titans and humans in a floundering, hapless way, yet always seems to come out the other side with new clues to chase down.
Harkaway’s depiction of the world is visceral and believable, the inequalities of today’s society extrapolated brilliantly to include a separate race of apparently superior humans. And his plotting is impeccable too. The reader is constantly one step behind Sounder, who is, in turn, one step behind the bad guys. It’s a morally grey world where no one really comes out smelling of roses, but Sounder’s moral compass just about leads him in the right direction by the end.
Titanium Noir blends the best of the science fiction and crime genres to create something vibrant and new. Captivating from start to finish.
Doug Johnstone is an author and journalist