(Gollancz, £12.99, 326 pages, hardback, 20 October 2005.)
Zha is bludgeoned across the back of the head while on a case in San
Francisco, and wakes up inside the body of coma victim Robert Van Berg
in New York. Van Berg is a blank identity thanks to the years spent
in a coma, and very rich thanks to a settlement fund set up because
of the crash that put him there, and Bobby wastes no time in abusing
the facilities to set himself up with fake credentials and head back
to San Francisco. Bobby's been murdered, and he's come back as Robert
to find out why. How is a mystery, but he knows it won't last for long
because he's seen the celestial nine-tailed fox, harbinger of death.
He has perhaps a few weeks to wrap things up, and when the fox visits
him again, that's it. He believes he knows who killed him, but the reason
why is stranger than he thinks.
9Tail Fox continues the theme of reincarnation from Jon Courtenay
Grimwood's previous novel, Stamping Butterflies, but returns
to the earlier Arabesk realm of the police procedural. Once again Grimwood
builds well on strong foundations, and I'd say that once again he's
outdone himself. That self-avenging angel Bobby should land himself
a body that's handsome, rich and the perfect would-be cover story for
a government agent is absurdly convenient, but exactly the sort of faux
karma that Hollywood loves; and among Grimwood's novels Fox is
surely the one that most loudly demands to be filmed. Besides, it is
-- as ever -- written with such fluid prose and cheeky knowing, and
the ending is so surprising and so hard-won by Bobby, that it's easy
to forgive that the book starts with a deus ex machina.
I don't want to give away too much about the SF element of the novel,
which provides the key to the whole mystery, but once revealed it connects
Bobby's murder with some or all of the following. The corrupt dealings
of "perfect cop" Pete Sanchez. The death of a foreign millionaire who's
just bought San Francisco's most eccentric property. A crack-addicted
cat. The secret past of Dr Persikov (by my reckoning, the second reference
to Mikhail Bulgakov in this book after the overt one) in Stalinist Russia.
Dead babies. A burglar shot by an eleven-year-old girl. And of course,
the nine-tailed fox. If that lot doesn't get your puzzlin' senses tingling,
see a doctor.
Character is a little lighter than it has been in Grimwood's work,
painted in broad strokes and yielding ground to the plot. Again, tastes
like Hollywood. But there is still plenty of exploration of Bobby Zha's
character, from the inside. Bobby has separated from his wife and teenage
daughter and is an unorthodox loner among his fellow officers, but he
still thinks he's making a reasonable go of it. Then he turns up at
his own funeral, and starts to discover how wrong he was. And keeps
discovering. At times the novel veers towards the psychological -- perhaps
Bobby really was corrupt, ineffective, an airhole, he just deluded himself
otherwise. When everyone else is so sure, can he alone really be right?
Does it matter when he's someone else now? Meanwhile Bobby is learning
all about other people's feelings, as he blunders through the life of
Officer Flic Valdez, and has to spend the rest of his brief second life
dealing with his blundering.
Fox is a tremendous read, which seemed to pass in no time at
all. Grimwood just keeps working his way up my list of favourite authors.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: