New York Blues – Eric Brown

New_York_Blues_-_Eric_Brown_cover
Virex #2

Virtual reality start Vanessa Artois contacts Halford Halliday, low-rent private detective, to find her missing sister. When Halliday investigates, he finds himself deeply (and literally) immersed in the world of virtual reality.

The previous book in the trilogy, New York Nights, somewhat explored the world of virtual reality as a concept. This sequel is much more of a standard detective story with virtual reality thinly layered on top. It’s in some ways a better story than the first, but also less interesting. The aspects of virtual reality discussed sometimes just flat out don’t make sense, and Brown attempts to work in an underground protest movement, Virex, that appears only at start and end, and feels very much like an add-on. While the whole series is called the Virex Trilogy, Virex has so far played a very small role.

In the first book, Brown made frequent and uncomfortable use of stereotypes. Here, that effect is lessened (though in its place there’s a constant fear the protagonist will turn out to be something else nasty)., but Brown does retain some verbal tics. All the characters like to say “It’s time I wasn’t here,” when they mean to leave. And there’s simply a fair amount of dialogue that doesn’t sound like New York, but does sound British. (Also, to Brown, New York City appears to consist mainly of Chinese laundries.) Some of the dialogue (especially from female characters) has the wide-eyed feel of a cheap TV show. (“But he knows you’re working for me! … it’d be dangerous, Hal.”) . There are also quite a few typos – always irritating.

The main problem with the story, though, is that the characters simply aren’t credible. Most of them come straight from stock, and their motivations are pretty thin. This is especially true of the evil villain, whose goals are unclear, and whose methods are baffling, to say the least. The protagonist and his romantic interest are predictable from page one.

This seems to be one of Brown’s early books. While it’s a bit surprising that he was able to sell more, the later ones do get better. If you’re not a Brown fan, skip these. If you are, these are an interesting but somewhat painful look at his earlier style, and at some of his continuing weaknesses.

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