New York Blues, by Eric Brown
Gollancz, 2002, 5.99, 309pp
ISBN 0-57507-30102

See also my review of Penumbra and Parallax View

Ahh, the Virtual Reality backlash begins! I noticed that those stupid helmet-and-glove combinations had disappeared from Tomorrow's World and our amusement arcades; now Eric Brown is putting the boot in too.

In a 21st century American city going to the dogs Hal Halliday runs a missing persons agency. When the beautiful VR star Vanessa Artois comes to him for help finding her missing sister, what first seems a textbook ‘teen runaway’ case very rapidly turns into something far more convoluted for all those concerned...but how are the anti-VR revolutionaries known as Virex connected to the case, and who is the mysterious Big Ed?

New York Blues owes more than a little to Blade Runner - the background of decay and incessant rain coupled with ex-cop Halliday's nocturnal modus operandi infallibly conjure up Ridley Scott's classic neon streets. This is by no means a bad thing in this context since Eric Brown uses Scott's imagery as a subtextual shorthand to help frame his own particular noir future. I did wonder why (apart from the evocativeness of the title - Great Yarmouth Nights doesn't have the same ring to it) a trilogy by an English writer should be set in the States. As Paul McAuley showed in his recent Whole Wide World we can do ‘grim and gritty’ just as well here. Ridley Scott is English, and Raymond Chandler, who wrote the rule-book for the hardboiled detective genre went to school not a mile from where I'm sitting now.

I suppose the homage to those core aspects of the genre - the down-at-heel gumshoe, beautiful rich dame in trouble, powerful and dangerous people with their own powerful and dangerous agendas - are more appreciable in a ‘home’ (i.e. US) setting though. The main thing I would question is the way that Brown, having impeccably set up his pastiche, then fails to really use it, which is a shame as I was having good ironic fun with it.

Having not read the first book in the trilogy I don't know if much of the background herein alluded to has already been dealt with or is pure scenery. However, I do know that I'll be picking up the final part of the trilogy hoping to find out. The skin of an sf story laid over the flesh of a detective plot is hardly a new idea, but New York Nights deals sensitively with the issues raised whilst keeping a competent and well-told story ticking over nicely.

Buy it from Amazon.co.uk