Books: Kop

…by Warren Hammond

Kop is sci-fi detective noir with a dark hard edge.  It’s a well written debut novel with the kind of flawed yet sympathetic protagonist you look for in detective books.  And make no mistake — this is a detective book first and science fiction second.

We’re OK with that.

What Warren Hammond has done is use established elements of conventional sci-fi tropes to create a dingy and corrupt tropical world called Lagarto.  Lagarto is the perfect analogue for a depressed and isolated third-world colony.  Once it had a flourishing single export economy; now it has mostly lizards.  In fact the Lagartans are so poor, so backwards, they barely have any hi-tech at all.  They drive Petrol-fuel cars, there’s no beaming tech, no nano tech, no super net.  It’s a lot like Mos Eisley in a swamp.  In fact, what Hammond has done with Lagarto is to effectively roll back the clock to a very 1930s-type place. 

This is where a cop like Juno Mozambe can operate.  He lives in the city of Koba, an aging enforcer for the Office of Police (thus, KOP) Chief who was once his partner.  The Chief calls him in to investigate one last case, partnering him with rookie detective Maggie Orzo.  Maggie happens to be gorgeous, idealistic, and a refugee from Lagarto’s small upper middle class.  It’s a murder case, of course.  It leads to new levels of bleakness and corruption, of course.  And it brings Juno back to his origins, to his first days as a street investigator, and to the faithful decisions that led him down the darker path.

The best detective stories are about place as much as they are about the crime and the investigator.  And Hammond has obviously done the requisite reading within the hard-boiled syllabus.  He builds the world and future history of Lagarto even as he establishes the tough guy environment in which Juno operates.  And with Juno narrating in 1st person, you get enough street-level grit to feel authentic.  Sometimes sci-fi writers seem to have a hard time pulling this off.  Maybe they’re afraid to get too dirty.  Not so with Warren Hammond.  He has good narrative rhythm.  He has a solid ear for tough guy dialogue.  The style and tone reminded me a lot of James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet.

The mystery elements, the sleuthing, fall into place nicely.  They’re not going to blow you away or anything, but they work.  And if you’re expecting higher level science fiction of the type dependent on extrapolation, well, that’s just not here.  The real enjoyment of reading Kop is discovering this bleak humid world and its cast of survivors…  reveling in the small moments of redemption and heroism for Juno and Maggie.  It’s an impressive writing debut and a good book, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for the next one, Ex-Kop which is due out later this month.

I could criticize certain aspects of the book, like the level of self-awareness of the narrator as he tells his story, or the structural problems with the ending.  But that would be sort of English Major-y and wanky of me.  The bottom line:  this is excellent detective fiction in a sci-fi setting.  It goes on that list, next to Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs books and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.


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