A near future crime novel set in Scotland.
Of the same ilk as Cory Doctorow (the two collaborated on the futuristic sci-fi novel The Rapture of the Nerds), Charles Stross is an English born author with degrees in pharmacy and computer science. His knowledge of these subjects shines through in Rule 34 a Scottish based crime thriller set in the near future.
Revolving around three main characters, DI Liz Kavanaugh, Anwar Hussein and The Toymaker, though including a wider diverse cast, each chapter tells a facet of the story focussing on the actions of one individual at time until the final third when their paths begin to cross.
DI Kavanaugh’s career has faltered somewhat and she’s found herself heading up the up the unofficially titled ‘Rule 34 Squad’, the team responsible for investigating the weirdest, sickest internet crimes and websites. Murder is uncommon in Edinburgh but a sudden spate of deaths linked to malfunctioning domestic appliances sees Kavanaugh dragged into an international investigation.
For the uninitiated Rule 34 refers to a simple rule of the net, if you can think of it, there’s porn about it. Try it, type anything you can think of and ‘rule 34’ into google, you sicko!
On the surface Anwar Hussein is a married family man, on probation having served a year inside for petty net based crimes but with a taste for a clandestine pint and the odd bit of fun in a shady spot with a free and easy lad. With a desire to go ‘almost straight’ Anwar is presented with the unlikely opportunity for a steady wage and respectability as an honorary diplomatic representative of a newly formed Eastern European republic.
The Toymaker is a borderline psychotic hardman whose meds are wearing off. He’s becoming increasingly annoyed that potential recruits for his sophisticated criminal organisation are being killed, to top it off an unexpected stroll onto an active crime scene causes unwanted complications.
Each character is fleshed out with complex traits and instincts, weaknesses and strengths. As the plot unwinds their paths, seemingly unrelated at first, begin to veer towards each other under the unlikeliest of circumstances. Miscommunications and ill thought out assumptions complicate their collective situations.
Charles Stross weaves an intricate tale at times rich with convincing facts and explanations. Though some of the characters failed to capture my imagination in the same way as the trio that form the foundation of the book I enjoyed the twists, turns and reveals throughout. The concluding chapters are heart pumping as the action reaches a peak and the final connections are made to between Kavanaugh, Hussein and The Toymaker. However, as I have previously found with Stross’ contributions to the afore mentioned The Rapture Of The Nerds, I find his writing style somewhat wordy and at times over complicated in the manner with which he presents complex structure. On this occasion, and my biggest struggle with the book by far, is the fact that every chapter is written in the second person, an unorthodox move. On more than one occasion I felt like I may not make it to the end of the book such was my struggle with the writing method. Each chapter feels disconnected as you adjust your perspective to accommodate the way the tale is being presented. It wasn’t until the final reveal that I understood the reason behind writing in the second person, and it’s almost too clever to justify the struggle of getting through the rest of the book.
Rule 34 offers some gritty reality, moments of despair, sadness, triumph and occasional whit. A clever, multi-layered plot plays out through a unique tapestry of events, circumstances and locations. Some very relatable, others require a stretch of the imagination. It might lose some of it’s uniqueness if written in a more traditional style, but it would certainly benefit from a greater fluidity and wider accessibility. If you enjoy a challenging yet ultimately rewarding journey Rule 34 is for you. If you don’t want to work too hard look elsewhere.
Paperback published June 2012.