The City & The City by China Mieville
Published 2009. 321 pages.
One of the finest qualities of The City & The City, though certainly not the only quality, is Mieville’s ambitious imagination. The novel is set in two cities: Beszel and Ul Qoma. What is unusual about these two cities is that they occupy the same location geographically and chronologically. And yet, the residents of the two cities do not interact with each other as they pass through the same space – it is in fact illegal to do so.
Mieville excels at building this unique world. Some books have interesting worlds, but it’s as if the authors just removed these worlds from their packaging. The settings of these books feel rigid and skeletal. The world of The City & The City, by contrast, is fleshed out, lived in, broken in.
In The City & The City, a Besz detective investigates the murder of a young American PhD student whose body was dumped in Beszel, but who was clearly killed in Ul Qoma. The course of the investigation leads him to new revelations about the nature of the cities and its people.
Inspector Tyador Borlu, the detective, reminds me some of the North Korean cop in James Church’s The Corpse in the Koryo, which I read earlier this year. They are both detectives who dangerously push against the rules of their societies to solve their cases.
The dialogue in The City & The City has a terrific sense of rhythm, and a good sense of how people speak. The following bit of speech from Tyador’s boss is not a significant part of the story, but I found it amusing:
But here’s the problem you’re not addressing. While yes we can both agree the sudden recovery of this footage smells not a little, and that we appear to be bits of tinfoil-on-string to some malevolent government kitten, yes yes yes but, Borlu, however they’ve come by the evidence, this is the correct decision.
I particularly like the bit about the “malevolent government kitten.”
The one thing I’ll say negatively about The City & The City is that I found the ending to be a little deflating. But even saying that, the more I’ve thought about the book, the more the ending has grown on me. So I’m not sure I’m even naming that as a flaw.
If you are intrigued by mysteries set in unusual, even fantastical, settings, (as I am) then I highly recommend this book. Top-notch.