November 26, 2022

Review: The Spare Man

The Spare Man The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is basically "The Thin Man" in space, as the title would indicate: a locked-room-spaceship murder mystery, with updated versions of Nick and Nora Charles for a new century. In this case, Nick is Shalmaneser Steward, newlywed spouse and recently retired private detective/reality show TV host who becomes embroiled in the murders. Nora is Tesla Crane, billionaire heiress to the Crane fortune who is attempting to travel anonymously on the ISS Lindgren, an interplanetary cruise ship, and who ends up having to keep her spouse out of the brig and solve the murder herself.

There's a third character who is a near-protagonist in her own right: Gimlet, Tesla's West Highland White terrier and service/support dog. Several years previously, Tesla was in an accident that nearly killed her and left her with a spine full of titanium screws, chronic pain, and PTSD. She has panic attacks and flashbacks that Gimlet's presence and training help mitigate. Gimlet is an adorable little dog that (almost) everybody loves, and this plays a part in the climax.

One's enjoyment of this book will depend entirely on how well they like murder mysteries, as the SF setting and the science of an interplanetary cruise ship is dealt with in a pretty perfunctory manner. It's nothing like the hard science of the author's "Lady Astronaut" series, which among other things is a love letter to NASA and its checklists. I'm not very much of a mystery aficionado myself, and clues and red herrings tend to fly over my head. The mystery seemed to unspool very gradually and suddenly speed up at the end. I don't know if it's overly convoluted per se, but let's just say that the final reveal of the killer and his motivation felt a little underwhelming, at least to me.

More interesting are the two main characters and their relationship. The author writes long-term relationships and married couples very well, and that continues here. The only reservation I have is Tesla's being a billionaire heiress. She tries to be aware of her privilege and not stomp all over people, but the circumstances here are such that she can't help but do that to an extent, which Shalmaneser points out. That thread seems to be shoved under the rug a little, and I wish the author had spent more time on it.

This was okay, but I didn't like it as much as the "Lady Astronaut" books. If you want a great read, check out The Calculating Stars. It's an alternate history of the space race, something along the lines of Apple TV's "For All Mankind," and it's terrific.

View all my reviews

No comments: