Meet Raymond Electromatic: private investigator by day, hitman by night, and the last robot on earth all the damn time. Ray was built by the now deceased Professor Thornton and his basic personality template modeled on the professor. Thornton also developed Ray’s computer partner, Ada, the chain-smoking brains of the operation…or at least she would be if she existed outside of a computer processor. Ada has tinkered with Ray’s prime directive – so that they be financially independent – as well as his tech specs, turning him into an efficient killing machine. If only his battery and memory tape didn’t run out after 24 hours. And while it would probably make his job easier if he looked human, being a 7-foot tall metal monstrosity has its perks.
In the late summer of 1965, an actress with a bag of gold appears at his door. Eva McLuckie hires Ray to bump off one of her missing co-stars, Charles David. Like the Raymond Chandler tales Made to Kill was inspired by, what starts out as a run-of-the-mill murder-for-hire spirals out of control until the plot spans scores of suspects, guilty parties, and unfortunate bystanders, with everyone from Soviet spies to undercover CIA agents to supposedly dead actors to wage jockeys just trying to pay the bills. As Ray draws nearer to the heart of the mystery he stumbles upon a great secret that could either unlock his potential or kill him. But whatever happens, as long as he still has his hat it’ll all work out. Right?
Made to Kill began life as an oddball answer to a Tor.com question about what undiscovered book he would want to find from a famous dead author. Adam Christopher chose a science fiction tale by Raymond Chandler, a man who despised the genre so much he once scoffed “They pay brisk money for this crap?” That notion percolated into a Tor.com short story, “Brisk Money,” then exploded into Made to Kill, the first book in the LA Trilogy.
There’s a lot to love about this book and a lot to attract readers with even the vaguest interest in science fiction. This is Raymond Chandler lite, and yes, that’s a compliment, even from someone as addicted to Philip Marlowe as I am. It’s nowhere near as dark and bitter as Farewell, My Lovely or The Long Goodbye, but it works to Christopher’s favor. A silly conceit like a hitman robot and ray gun wielding spies wouldn’t work with a tone as acidly sarcastic as Chandler doled out, but with Christopher’s breezy touch it soars. You’ve got your good old fashioned murder mystery, a goofy noirish detective story, a shifty assassin plot, and a sinister Cold War heist, all centered around a metallic narrator with a heart of fool’s gold.
Christopher has a solid talent at crafting entertaining description. The section set in the Ritz-Beverly Hotel was a delight to read, full of lines like “I reached the start of its driveway around ten in the morning and I was looking for lunch around the time I pulled into the guest parking lot,” and “The first door led to another bedroom that was smaller in the same way the White House was smaller than the Capitol,” and my absolute favorite, “He had his hands clasped in front of him like a groom waiting at the altar for his bride, and when I looked at him he jerked his head up like he wanted to get that cap off real bad but regulations didn’t allow him to touch it with his hands.” If you’ve ever read Raymond Chandler you’ll recognize his fingerprints in that text (and if you haven’t, go get The Big Sleep pronto). He’s lurking around the edges enough to taste the Chandler flavor but not enough to become a copycat or parody.
But it’s the characters that really drive the story home. I suspect those who don’t like Ray simply aren’t giving him a fair shot. Yes, he’s morally gray, but he isn’t an antihero, not really. He isn’t begrudging or indifferently ambiguous. He does his job – even if that job is to kill people – because he was programmed to, and while he can simulate emotions they’re all based on an algorithm created by his long-dead maker. He’s Philip Marlowe by way of The Colossus of New York. But most important of all Ray is likeable, even when he offs innocent passersby. It is a pleasure to spend time with him as he follows the scheming machinations of his case. Ada is a formidable broad with secrets of her own. She is quippy in a way that doesn’t get tiresome, no matter how frustrated Ray gets with her circuitous responses. Eva, Charles David, and the rest of the actors don’t get enough page time to really get a feel for them, so when the plot circles back to them the level of audience investment in their fates isn’t nearly as strong as it should be. But if less time with them means more time with Ray then it’s a sacrifice I’m happy to make.
For those keeping track of diversity, Made to Kill has a nice range of positive racial and gender representation. There aren’t a lot of people of color, but enough that they aren’t tokenized. All the women have personal agency and absolutely no fridging. There’s certainly room to grow in terms of representation, but the world Christopher has created suggests enough inherent diversity that it’s sure to become more apparent as the series progresses.
Between The Burning Dark and now Made to Kill, Adam Christopher is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Reading his books is like digging into Sleepy Hollow or the first few seasons of Supernatural: a rolicking ride full of dark twists that leave you desperate for more. I was genuinely disappointed at having finished it, mostly because it means I have to wait a whole year for the second book in the trilogy. Patience is not my strong suit, especially for a series this fun. Much like Joe Hill’s Horns, Evelyn Waugh’s The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, and Gillen and McKelvie’s tun on Young Avengers, Made to Kill is going to be one of those books I pass out like party favors to friends, family, and strangers alike.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.