British Fiction Focus

Dial H for Hitchcock: Revealing The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts

“A near-future conspiracy thriller told with […] trademark wit and intelligence,” Adam Roberts’ next novel is almost upon us. “Inspired by a scene Alfred Hitchcock wanted to film for North by Northwest but couldn’t manage,” The Real-Town Murders revolves around a disenfranchised private eye called Alma:

Alma is a private detective in a near-future England, a country desperately trying to tempt people away from the delights of Shine, the immersive successor to the internet. She is one of the few who doesn’t use it, but most people are happy to spend their lives plugged in, and the country, as a consequence, is crumbling.

To make matters worse, Alma’s partner is critically ill, and has to be treated without fail every four hours, a responsibility that only Alma can fulfil. If she misses the five-minute window, her lover will die. So when Alma is called to an automated car factory to be shown an impossible death and finds herself caught up in a political coup, she knows that getting too deep may leave her unable to get home.

What follows is “a fast-paced Hitchcockian thriller as Alma evades arrest, digs into the conspiracy, and tries to work out how on earth a dead body appeared in the boot of a freshly-made car in a fully-automated factory.”

“A new Adam Roberts project is always a delight,” commented Commissioning Editor Marcus Gipps—and he’s quite right. Roberts’ last novel, The Thing Itself, was a truly brilliant book about why you should believe in God that left me with my spiritual convictions variously shaken. Before that it was Bête, about which vegetarian fable I wrote this:

Reading Adam Roberts is like participating in a literary lucky dip. It’s a bit of a gamble, granted, but every one’s a winner, and all of the prizes on offer are awesome. Different sorts of awesome, I dare say. Always smart, and ever so sharp, but sometimes you get something scathing, and sometimes something sweet. Sometimes his stories are obscenely serious; sometimes they’re ridiculously silly. Bête represents the best of both worlds—the coming together of all the aspects of Adam Roberts: the author, the professor and the satirist, alongside a number of others.

It remains to be seen whether The Real-Town Murders will be as vastly satisfying as that, but Roberts, at least, seems pleased:

“I’m absolutely delighted to be publishing again with Gollancz: not only the best SF list in Britain, the best in the world. In this novel I’ve tried to play fair with an impossible murder and a couple of near-future science fiction technologies, but I wrote the whole book under the tutelary spirit of Alfred Hitchcock, and what I came to realise, as I was going along, is that he’s a much trickier customer than many people realise. I hope the SF puzzle and its working-out plays fair, for all that. I think it’s my most ingenious so far.”

And that, let me tell you, is a hell of a high bar.

The Real-Town Murders is out from Gollancz at the end of August. Surprisingly, given that Roberts is a one-and-done kind of writer, an as-yet untitled sequel is in the works as well.

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and Tor.com. He lives with about a bazillion books, his better half and a certain sleekit wee beastie in the central belt of bonnie Scotland.

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