BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Shapeshifting detective Jeremy Stake is hired to identify a clone found in a rapidly-growing replica of Punktown located on the planet Sinon, where he fought in the Blue War.
PROS: A good mystery; clear writing; the story really comes together in the last third of the book.
CONS: The appeal of Punktown is all but gone; Thi Gonh’s character comes across as weak when we know she is stronger.
BOTTOM LINE: A good detective novel, but I want to see a return to Punktown.
Jeffrey Thomas Punktown novel, Deadstock, was one of my best reads in 2007. Shapeshifting private detective Jeremy Stake is back in Blue War. Jeremy is hired by the Colonial Defense Forces to identify a cloned human found on the extra-dimensional planet of Sinon, where an organic replica of his own Punktown has mysteriously appeared – and continues to grow at an alarming rate. Sinon is also where Stake fought in the Blue War with the CDF years before (despite the misleading book title), so he takes the opportunity to reconnect with Thi Gonh, an enemy sniper with whom he fell in love.
One of the things that impressed me about Deadstock was the cool setting. Punktown is a delicious blend of science fiction mutants and horror elements – as much a character as any other in the book. In Blue War, most of the action takes place in Bluetown, which may look like Punktown on the surface but lacks any of its charm. Every time Stake travels around Bluetown looking for clues the reader is reminded that’s it’s not just the residents missing, it’s the attraction of the setting. Coincidentally, this was the same problem I had with George Alec Effinger’s The Exile Kiss; take away the setting and lose the lure. Without Punktown, Blue War, while good, is just another sf detective novel.
Stakes reason for visiting Bluetown (the identity of the clone found there and a chance to look up his old flame) soon gives way to a larger mystery involving corruption, espionage, terrorism and cover-ups. In this, Thomas has set up an interesting enough mystery and drops enough clues along the way to build a solid means and motive for the bad guys. While the mystery took its time to unfold, I found myself drawn to the story of Stake and Thi Gonh.
Stake is still a likable character. He’s thorough, has good intentions, and flies in the face of authority to get the job done. Stake himself is a mutant, his face unconsciously changing shape to match a person he stares at for too long. This is a handy ability to have as a private detective who might want to go under cover and get some answers, but Stake refrains from using it for much of the first half of the book. This wasn’t so bad, really, as it was corrected later. However, the characterization of ex-soldier (and now ex-patriot) Thi Gonh was inconsistent with her legendary status as war hero. Here, she merely plays the abused wife with seemingly no desire to stand up to her husband. Sure, Thi Gonh lives in disgrace for falling in love with Stake, the human enemy. But I don’t buy that this tough soldier would sit back and let her culture dictate her lack of action or reaction.
Eventually the human drama took a back seat to the main mystery. This is a detective novel after all. The last parts of the book were the strongest: the clues are pieced together, the motives become clear, enemies come into focus, Stake finally takes advantage of his shapeshifting abilities, and some fast-moving action scenes follow one another to a satisfying conclusion.
Blue War works as a good detective novel, but Thomas has shown us more. I still like Punktown but I want to see Jeremy Stake back in the element that made me like his adventures in the first place.