Made To Kill is the first in a new trilogy by Adam Christopher. It’s set in an alternate Los Angeles in the 1960’s, and follows Ray Electromatic, the last robot and licensed private eye, as he investigates a case of murder and intrigue.
As alluded to above, theLos Angeles we see in Made To Kill seems to be a slight divergence from our own. For example, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre exists in both worlds. But in Made To Kill, humanoid and non-humanoid artificial intelligences exist in the form of robots, though they struggle with analogue technology. In another example, President Kenndy is said to be negotiating to place nuclear warheads on Cuba, where in our own world, that action was taken by the Russians. So the L.A we see is similar, but subtly different. The author manages to make these small changes deftly enough that they sit on the edge of the reader’s consciousness – over time, they build up to produce a picture of a world different from our own, but nothing feels glaring on the page; we’re largely inducted by degrees.
Christopher’s prose, in this case, also evokes that of Hammett or Chandler. The world is seen with a kind of terse, biting clarity, which is nonetheless very detailed. We follow our protagonist down the sun-drenched boulevards, through traffic jams, and into disused hotel rooms, and each of those things is given it’s due. There’s a sense of sunlight, mixed with grime, and a feeling of retro-futurism, which infuses the text. All of which serves as a contrast to the viewpoint character, and their interactions with that world. Christopher’s L.A. is a believable one, with stylistic flourishes which make it fit perfectly with the mood it’s seeking to portray.
From a character standpoint, our protagonist, Ray Electromatic, is also reminiscent of great detective’s past. He’s got the drawling delivery, incisive analysis and humour of Marlowe, and the pragmatism and willingness to mix it up of The Continental Op. He’s also a robot, but we won’t hold that against him. It does mean that he only has a twenty-four hour memory, which serves, initially, as a rather entertaining dramatic device. Over the course of the text, Ray develops somewhat – especially given his mechanical origins – and we get a sense of something shifting within his character.
He’s backed up by an intriguing supporting cast – including Ada, the ruthless and acerbic super-computer, whose portrayal in Ray’s mind as a woman with a cigarette and her feet on a desk is a delight to read. There’s also a whole swathe of Hollywood stars, government agents of various levels of competence, and some Russians. I’d say the only real issue here is that the villains of the piece don’t get as much room to grow as they might. It would have been nice to explore their drivers in more detail. On the other hand, the text works as written, and the focus remains on Ray, so this is a minor complaint.
Plot-wise, the text begins in the same mode as a thirties detective story – there’s even a mysterious woman bringing in a strange request. As these things do, this quickly spirals out of control. Eventually it becomes a wonderfully bizarre mixture of pulp-esque mad-science, Red-Scare era scheming, and the occasional outbreak of fisticuffs – all constrained with then thirties mode. It’s an eclectic but effective narrative mixture, and makes for an odd but thoroughly entertaining read.
Is it worth reading? I’d say so. It feels like it really is opening up the ground for further books in the series, but it’s also compelling enough in its own right. The central mystery is intriguing, with enough red herrings to keep me guessing throughout, and the characters were well-drawn enough to keep me reading. So yes, give it a try!