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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 6.0° F  Fair
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A Book A Week: The City & The City by China Miéville

In keeping with my quest to read mysteries set in exotic locations, I read The City & The City by China Miéville. He is a purveyor of urban speculative fiction that incorporates elements of fantasy, reality, and science fiction. In this book, two cities, Beszel (a rundown eastern European backwater) and UlQoma (flush with money from a booming high-tech industry) exist in the same physical space. The streets, buildings and residents wrap around one another like strands of spaghetti, but it's impossible to be in both cities at the same time.

The book's fantasy device allows the overlapping territories to appear different to the residents of each city. Residents of both can see one another but must avoid interacting through a technique known as "unseeing," lest they attract the attention of a malevolent force known as Breach, which keeps everyone apart.

The mystery concerns a resident of UlQoma who is found dead in Beszel; how she got there is as much a question as who killed her. The man who must investigate is Inspector Tyador Borlu of Beszel, a jaded cop of the type familiar to readers of noir mysteries. As Tyador gets pulled deeper into the mystery he explores the relationship between the two cities and the forces that keep them apart.

Notice how much work it was to explain this book's setting. It was actually less annoying to just read the book itself; in fact, I enjoyed it, and Miéville does a good job of helping you understand the bits you need to understand and redirecting you away from what doesn't make as much sense. I did keep wondering if the story was a metaphor for modern cities segregated between haves and have-nots, though Miéville says he discourages reading too much into his choices.

Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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