Things are not ducky in Edinburgh in 2025. Indeed, they've been far from ducky since the financial collapse of 2002, the crippling global warming, the UK's devolution into so many anarchic city-states, and Edinburgh's embrace of the Enlightenment (the ironic name of their dystopian state, controlled by the Council of City Guardians) and its de facto absence of individual liberty.
On the bright side, crime's down, tourism's up, and the Edlott lottery (a "citizen's" only shot at betterment) is doing land-office business. A pity, then, that recent winner Fordyce Kennedy's gone missing and Frankie Thomson, a demoted Auxiliary Guardsman, has turned up dead on the banks of the Water of Leith. Ironically, Frankie died of nicotine poisoning after sampling a contraband bottle of "Ultimate Usquebaugh." Usquebaugh is Gaelic for "the water of life," or whisky.
Enter Quintilian Dalrymple, Water of Death's noirish, blues-haunted hero, a freelance detective (himself a demotee from the powerful Auxiliary Guard thanks to exploits detailed in 1999's award-winning Body Politic and 2000's The Bone Yard) who's reluctantly tapped by the Guardians when things get deadly. With the help of his Guardsman sidekick, Davie, and the sufferance of a by-the-book superior, Quint is tasked with finding Fordyce, finding Frankie's murderer, and finally, finding Fordyce's murderer after he, too, succumbs to Ultimate Usquebaugh. In the meantime, Quint juggles the professional-intimate relationship he's having with the city's Senior Guardian, Sophia, the reemergence of his ex-lover, Katharine, and the fact that Katharine, Sophia, and countless others are possible committers of the mounting crimes.
Intelligent, breezy, and surely paced, Paul Johnston's wryly humorous mystery succeeds despite its basic whodunit plot. Clever dialogue and likeable (if not wholly fleshed) characters abound, and the near-future setting provides enough diversion and sociopolitical food-for-thought to nicely carry the day. -- Michael Hudson
From Publishers Weekly
A rogue crime fighter in a failed utopian Edinburgh in the year 2025 is such a strong concept that some of its original glow remains in this third entry in the series. But flaws that niggled in the first two books (Body Politic; The Bone Yard) painfully heavy-handed similes on virtually every page; a never-ending barrage of attitude between the hero and his supervisors have now become dangerous distractions. It takes more work than it should to follow Quint Dalrymple, as the former cop-turned-freelance chief investigator for the elite ruling Council tries to solve a series of murders during an extremely hot summer. Edinburgh's ordinary citizens, suffering through a severe water shortage while the city's reservoirs flow lavishly for the foreign tourists who support the local economy, are dying from poisoned whiskey. The first victim is the winner of a new lottery designed to take people's minds off how badly the independence movement called the Enlightenment formed after the drug wars and economic disasters of the years 2001 through 2004 has faltered. Quint's former lover is a prime suspect in the poisonings, so the anti-establishment investigator is even more conflicted than usual as he goes about his work. Despite the distractions, Dalrymple who loves blues music and 20th-century noir mysteries remains an arresting presence, and Johnston often uses his blighted futuristic landscape to great ironic advantage (a key scene takes place in what used to be Craiglockhart War Hospital, where WWI shellshock victims Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen were treated). (Apr. 4) FYI: Ian Rankin raved about Body Politic and Johnston returns the favor here by having Dalrymple reading Rankin's Black and Blue, just removed from the proscribed list when "the Council lifted the ban on pre-Enlightenment Scottish crime fiction."
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