The Automatic Detective
by A. Lee Martinez
Cover Artist: Glen Orbik
Review by Colleen Cahill
Tor Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765318343
Date: 05 February 2008 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Combining science fiction and mystery is nothing new; Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel is just one example that leaps to mind. In A. Lee Martinez's The Automatic Detective, we get the combination of a futuristic, high-tech city with an underworld of dark crimes and shady dealings. Only a killer robot gone straight can save this city, with the help of a few friends. By joining bits of mega-science, hardboiled crime and occasional outlandish twists, Martinez takes us to a wonderful world that is new and yet oh so familiar.
Mack Megaton might have been designed to take over the world, but all that changed when he gained the spark of independent thought and turned on his creator. Now Mack is driving a cab, hoping to keep clean until his probationary period is over and he can become a citizen of Empire City. This burg is the most welcoming place for non-human intelligences, such as Mack's co-worker Jung, who is an ape who can talk. While this might be "the city that never functions," Empire is the only place a former killer bot could start over again.
So far, Mack has done a pretty good job of staying out of trouble. When the little girl next door sends a message that her family has been kidnapped, Mack can't turn his back on his few friends, especially as he gets the message just after his apartment is blown up. Soon Mack finds he is not the lone gun he tries to be; Jung insists on joining the search, as does Lucia Napier, a technological genius who is also a blond bombshell who seems interested in more than just Mack's inner workings. From the mean streets to the offices of the high, Mack follows a dark secret that is at the heart of Empire City, with a madman who wants to destroy them all.
Martinez does a great job of blending science fiction and detective tropes in a delightful homage to both genres. Mack is a tough guy with a tender heart who, unlike some noir heroes, is also a bit naive as he is "barely two years old." There are elements of Raymond Chandler here, but with the fun touches of humor, I also felt the influence of Rex Stout in this book. With mutant lowlifes, little green mob bosses and a city that is a technological fantasy and nightmare, this book still has a strong feel of the dark mysteries that featured strong men, sultry dames and villains with hearts of evil.
The Automatic Detective is a great book that has something for both the detective fiction and science fiction fan. What really makes this amalgamation work is Martinez's careful crafting of Mack, a robot that we would all like to turn to in times of trouble. I heartily recommend this book for its great atmosphere, intriguing plots and wonderful salute to two of my favorite kinds of books.