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Jigsaw Men

by Gary Greenwood

introduction by Mark Chadbourn

(PS Publishing, £10.00,103 pages, signed, numbered, limited edition paperback, also available as signed, numbered, limited edition hardback priced £25.00, published 2004.)

Review by John Toon

Detective Livingstone has been assigned to investigate the apparent abduction of Danielle, the daughter of Lord Trafalgar, cover scanBritish Minister for the Judiciary. The eyes of the peer, Livingstone's superiors and the press are on him. He hardly dares tell anyone that his only lead is a porn video that seems to show Danielle engaging in sexual acts with a man with six testicles -- a Jigsaw Man, one of the nation's underclass of reanimated soldiers. This unsavoury clue leads Livingstone to uncover a much wider plot, one that threatens to change the face of a world in which World Wars One and Two were fought with Frankenstein's monsters and Martian Heat-Rays.

This book should have been better. It's good, don't get me wrong, but it should have been better. The principle behind the novella -- the stitching together of nineteenth-century genre works to form a new whole -- is very much in vogue at present, and to my mind it generally yields good results. Jigsaw Men should have been no different, taking as its backstory a cross-pollination of Frankenstein and The War of the Worlds, but backstory is largely what it remains, and I think that's the problem. The Jigsaw Men provide character motivation for Livingstone, and stand in for oppressed social groups everywhere ("Jiggers" is the subtle term by which the constabulary refer to them), but even though they claim the title of the novella, I wouldn't say Jigsaw Men is really about them. Ultimately what Livingstone uncovers is just the dirty end of an arms race; Jigsaw Men might just as well have been a Cold War thriller, except that instead of defecting double agents and nuclear warheads we've got Frankenstein's monsters and second-hand Martian weaponry. It's effectively detective/spy adventure fiction with SF window-dressing, rather than SF in its own right.

This isn't to say that it isn't a good spy thriller. It's not spectacular detective fiction -- Livingstone uncovers the questions, but the answers are given to him by a third party, which robs the story of most of its suspense -- but it pushes all the right "hi-octane" buttons and ends on a dramatic high note, with Livingstone poised for the sort of international deep-cover exploits befitting an action hero. Ideally, I think, such exploits should have been included here, stretching Jigsaw Men out to full novel length and allowing more room to explore its genre oddities into the bargain.

Perhaps Greenwood will expand upon his theme in further novellas -- perhaps Jigsaw Men is to prove the start of a kind of serialised novel. In any case, what we have here feels like an excellent beginning to something, but not an entirely self-sufficient work.

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