Ray Electromatic, the robot hitman, is back in the latest entry in Adam Christopher’s pulpy murder mystery series, Killing Is My Business. It’s been a while now since Ada, his former secretary now boss who also happens to be a room-sized super computer, reprogrammed Ray from a run-of-the-mill metallic detective to a murderer for hire. Business is booming and the cash is piling up. Ray is eerily good at what he does.
Ada sends Ray on a cryptic stakeout, which leads to an even more cryptic hit and a series of increasingly convoluted and seemingly counterproductive cons, schemes, and shenanigans. The less Ada reveals, the more Ray suspects something’s up, and the deeper he’s pulled into the tangled web of the Italian mafia, Hollywood high rollers, and conspiracy coverups.
Killing Is My Business is the second full-length novel, and fourth entry in the series (there’s a short story prequel—available to read at Tor.com—and a novella between this and Made to Kill). Now’s an especially good time to at least check out the free prequel, since some of the overarching thematic elements there are mirrored in Killing Is My Business. You don’t absolutely have to have read any of the previous stories in order read the newest, although I highly recommend it. The whole kit and kaboodle is a ton of fun to read.
The story is set in a version of 1960s Los Angeles where robots were once all over the place but when the tide of public opinion turned against them, all but Ray were destroyed. Everyday Ada gives him a new case to work and a new person to off, and every night he comes back, takes out his 24-hour tape, and gets a fresh restart so that every morning he starts brand new with nothing but his template and Ada’s guidance to keep him company. Having a short term memory has its problems, though, and those problems are starting to compound.
Christopher channels more than just Raymond Chandler’s name. The Ray Electromatic Mysteries are alternate history mashed with mid-century B-movie science fiction and pulp fiction sensibilities, all tied together with a line of dark humor. With his fedora, overcoat, and shiny PI badge, Ray is a electronic Philip Marlowe. Christopher has a knack for atmospheric description and scintillating dialogue, and he’s rarely more fun than when he puts those skills to pulpy use. If Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett decided to take a crack at robot science fiction, they’d end up with something close to the Ray Electromatic Mysteries. Killing Is My Business is probably the least noir-ish of the robot noir series—it’s light on the hardboiled detective and heavy on conspiracies, secrets, and lies—but it’s no less entertaining.
Despite being a walking, talking computer, Ray is easy to get attached to. There’s just enough curiosity from his detective programming and remnants of his creator in him (his personality is based off a template copied from the dearly departed professor) to give him some spark. Raymondo may be a bunch of ones and zeroes, but he still has feelings and wants, albeit artificial ones. He’s a tin man with a heart. Ada is a lot more complex, but it’s hard to fault her when she’s simply doing what she was created to do—make money, that is—even when her prerogative gets people killed. If the series is headed where I think it’s headed, the confrontation between headstrong Ray and ruthless Ada will be striking.
As for the humans, they’re all pretty par for the course for a pulp detective novel. Mobsters, femme fatales, and hapless nobodies abound, but they all get just enough shading to be interesting on their own. The only thing this series lacks is diversity. Other than Ada, there’s only one woman, and the racial/ethnic diversity is equally as limited.
It’s hard to talk plot without getting into spoilers, but here’s the short and sweet. Ada takes a new case, one where Ray is hired to bump off an old Sicilian gangster but not before he’s befriended him and done some snooping around. Ray keeps getting new jobs to take out Hollywood elites, and they keep turning up dead before he can pull the trigger. The farther down the rabbit hole he goes, the more he uncovers, and the more men end up six feet under. No one is who they say they are, not even Ray. It’s a story full of twists and turns and backtracks and reveals, but it’s not really all that complicated, not when you get into it.
Alright, so there’s one more little thing I have to mention. In the 1946 film version of Chandler’s The Big Sleep, there’s this major plot hole where a chauffeur is killed and his car is dumped in the water, but we never learn who the killer is. When director Howard Hawkes asked Chandler about it, Chandler apparently replied “Damned if I know.” There’s a moment like that in Killing Is My Business where a character dies under suspicious circumstances but no one ever figures out whodunit. Intentional or not, I choose to believe it’s an homage to Chandler. Either way, it adds a little wrinkle to a larger mystery.
You need some weird, wonky fun on your bookshelf, and the Ray Electromatic Mysteries are just the thing. How can you say no to a Raymond Chandler-esque murder mystery books with a robot hitman protagonist? Just trust me on this.
Killing Is My Business is available from Tor Books.
Alex Brown is a teen 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.