Crackle and Fire: An Angela Hardwicke Sci-Fi Mystery is one of those rare finds for me as a discerning indie book reader. Basically, it was a random buy. Unlike the majority of my books that I pick up based on word of mouth or reviews online by people I trust, I picked this one up because I saw its cover while searching for cyberpunk detective novels. I am a man of very specific genre tastes and guys (or gals) in fedoras investigating robots as well as cyber crimes is pretty much my jame. I recommend the Bubbles in Space by SC Jensen and Easytown novels by Brian Parker for other books in that vein.
Crackle and Fire isn’t precisely a cyberpunk novel, taking place in what’s more like Planescape’s Sigil from Dungeons and Dragons. Eternity is the center of the multiverse where the cosmic Minders, a bunch of uplifted humans, manage the creation and maintenance of reality. However, it’s generally no different from any other office grind with the rich, poor, crime, and all the usual hustles of a capitalistic society. The fact corporations may design solar systems doesn’t change the fact that its employees are paid almost nothing.
Angela Hardwicke is a former drug addict and present-day private eye as well as single mother. An accountant hires her to investigate a bunch of stolen files from his operation for recruiting agents operating across the multiverse. These might be related to a family of criminals that Angela Hardwicke ticked off earlier in her career when she was still abusing drugs. Angela doesn’t want to take the case but finds herself forced into the job.
Crackle and Fire has a few rough parts but overall makes the correct choice of which element of its sci-fi versus detective noir elements to emphasize. It goes very heavily on the film noir elements and there’s a large number of suspects as well as revelations that deal far more with bad childhoods as well as business deals gone wrong versus cosmic questions. Indeed, this story could have been done in a space station or more mundane sci-fi future without losing much but the oddities of the Minders of the Universe as well as their minions adds an interesting Star Trek’s Q-like atmosphere.
Angela is a great character and I very much enjoyed following her adventures throughout the book. She’s a streetwise but vulnerable character that is only now getting her life back together when she finds herself immersed in a bunch of conflicting stories from her client, suspects, and people who are supposedly her friends. The story has a number of dark twists that I also didn’t see coming, including the ending. The book mixes sci-fi and detective fiction in a way that never fails to entertain.
I actually enjoyed the short story, “The Case of Jarlo’s Buried Treasure” more than the main book and I really liked the main story. It is the Blade Runner-esque tale of an android sentenced to death for murder and Angela trying desperately to find something that will exonerate him before is execution. The story worked well for me and is a tightly written as well as extremely engaging in its characterization. Much more cyberpunk than the main book.
In conclusion, I say that Crackle and Fire is a great introduction to the world of Eternity and its stories. There’s a million stories in the naked city and we get to experience several of them. I also give credit to the writer for the fact that they’re not afraid to have their heroine fail and sometimes fail big. That’s one of the keys to a successful noir tale, IMHO.