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Very Bad Deaths by Spider Robinson
Cover Artist: Stephen Hickman
Review by Steve Sawicki
Baen Mass Market  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781416520832
Date: 29 August 2006 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Paul Haggerty's Review (01/04) / Show Official Info /

This is a bit of an odd book, although I suppose it is what one should now expect from Spider Robinson who seems to have veered off the SF path the past few years while never quite actually managing to fully break free. This book is really a horror novel built around the SF trope of mind reading.

Russel Walker is living in Canada's Northwest, writing, pining for his dead wife and thinking of killing himself. Before he can commit the deed however, an old college friend shows up with a problem. Smelly, the old college friend, can read minds and has picked up on a particularly vile one, a serial killer who has perfected the art of torture. He wants to track the killer down and get him off the streets, but he can't do it alone.

Smelly needs Russel's help because he can't stand to be too near people due to the psychic overload it causes. So he looks up Russel so that Russel can be his go between with the police so they can get the killer. Russel heads off, chancing to meet Constable Nika Mandic, whom he manages to convince of the genuineness of his need by having her come in range of Smelly. But, with no hard evidence there's not much that any of them can do except try to resolve the whole mess on their own.

Robinson uses flashbacks to tell the story of how Russel met Smelly and how the two of them bonded in college. This also introduces us to Russel's wife, whom he met at the time, and a few college hijinks as well. As with any Robinson novel you can expect a certain number of puns and a certain degree of wordplay. Also, as with any Robinson novel, there's a nice flow to the action and the character development. The only piece I struggled a bit with was the serial killer who was given almost super human powers under the guise that they had been learned because the killer had spent a significant amount of time studying them. I think the killer was nasty enough without this.

I enjoyed the book although I kept wishing it had a few more fantastic elements in it. I liked the sparsity of characters which worked to keep the plot focused and up-front at all times. I even thought the flash backs worked and I typically find flashbacks too jarring to the narrative flow. But, here they worked. Overall, an enjoyable read, if not quite as scary as some of the blurbs would have you believe.

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