In The City and The City, China Miéville, branches out into a new form of genre fiction: the mystery. While past novels, like Perdido Street Station and the Scar, have firmly established Miéville as a scifi/fantasy superstar they have not been proving grounds for writing a good mystery. Miéville works in some of his scifi and fantasy tendencies by creating this city in a version of our own world and having it split. Citizens of each city are supposed to unsee each other. Effectively, they act as though they have blinders on and the other city is non-existent. If they do notice it or cross over, this is seen as breach, and a mysterious police force intervenes. The idea is a little compelling, but not compelling enough for three hundred pages. The city is what Miéville is most interested in, and the overall murder mystery becomes quite secondary.
Most of the dialogue in the book is poorly constructed. Characters speak to give the reader information. It’s a poor attempt to move the story forward that hurts the novel in another way. Character development is as non-existent as the boundary between the cities. The narrator is not intriguing or endearing. We never really see his motivations beyond it being his job. Yet, he is working outside the system. He must have motivations. Often times the characters seem as though they’ve been created by someone who has watched a lot of police dramas. The other awkward area in this novel is the attempt to ground it in our present world. There is an internet, email, and all the big corporations that litter expressways with billboards. To what effect? The pop culture corporate name dropping doesn’t add anything. It doesn’t make the Cities any more strange by seeing them next to our world.
Miéville is an exciting writer who will most likely write more books. For the time being though, this is one to miss.