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Monday, 9 July 2012

Rule 34 by Charles Stross

There's a rather juvenile reason why I decided that I needed to read this. For anyone who hasn't trawled the Internet enough to have found this out, Rule 34 is the rule of the Internet that states the following: "If you can think of it, there's porn of it". Immediately, there will be people closing down this review wondering what kind of hideous pornography I could be reviewing. But you would be surprised by how tame Rule 34 actually is.

Rule 34 is a mystery novel. Set in a near future Edinburgh, the plot is sparked off by the suspicious death of a fetishist, who happens to have served time for scams and identity fraud over the Internet. For the most part, you follow three main characters over the course of the book. First is DI Liz Kavanaugh, the head of the Edinburgh's 'Rule 34 Squad'. It's her job to keep her eye on the Internet, observing memes and chasing down various acts of Internet crime; as such, she is quickly brought in on the case, due to the victim's history. Second is Anwar Hussein, a small-time ex-con trying to go clean; when he gets a job as a consul for a newly created country in Eastern Europe, he appears to have struck gold, although there are a few things that don't seem quite right. Finally, there is a mysterious man known only as 'The Toymaker', an agent of a sprawling organised crime syndicate. He's in Edinburgh to reinvent one of their outposts, but his plans keep getting foiled when his potential recruits keep getting killed; the fact that his meds keep gradually wearing out, causing him to imagine giant lizard people taking over, only makes things more difficult.
In terms of plot, there are quite a few threads to keep in mind. All three plot threads intersect at various points in the narrative, whether it's through main or side characters: for example, The Toymaker ends up having sex with Liz's on-again-off-again girlfriend, as well as meeting with Anwar at the consulate. All of these narratives are necessary to understand how the mystery may be unravelled, and they all provide quite a lot of overlapping information. Fair enough, you say, but this isn't all that uncommon in mystery novels these days. The thing is though, Rule 34 doesn't feel like your standard detective novel/police procedural. In contrast to most mystery novels that I've read, I don't think that this is a mystery that the reader could solve; don't get me wrong, in hindsight it is quite well signposted, but it just doesn't have an outcome that most mystery readers would even begin to consider. I don't personally have a problem with that though: while it caught me off-guard when I first read it, it does feel right and I'm actually kind of impressed at how the solution was reached. My only real problem is with the rest of the ending. You see, throughout the different plot-lines, the main focus characters have their own personal issues that they must attend to: for DI Kavanaugh it's her dissatisfaction with her life ever since her career went down the toilet, for Anwar it's his wife's disapproval with his criminal past and his inclinations for other men, and for The Toymaker it's the aforementioned giant lizard people; those are very basic summaries, with much more intricacy and messiness. Those plot-lines are just dropped, for the most part. In the rush to get to the solution, whatever character development that had occurred during the narrative sort of grinds to a halt, which is disappointing really. When you have such a wide and varied cast, it makes me sad to see all of their development left hanging; granted, it is given justification of sorts in the final chapter, and I suppose it does reflect real life more than most books, it just leaves me a bit disappointed.
The only other thing that I should probably mention is the writing style. It's written in the present tense, which I personally didn't notice until I checked just now, and also in the 2nd person. The use of 2nd person just confuses me. Not in terms of clarity, as it's pretty clear what's happening most of the time. I just don't understand why you would use it in a mystery novel. To my knowledge, the only other things that I've read that use the 2nd person perspective are Choose Your Own Adventure-style novels, as, for all intents and purposes, you are actually the main character in those. Here, it just seems different for the sake of being different; if there was some kind of hidden meaning behind it all, I certainly missed it.

Overall, a generally enjoyable mystery novel with some viciously cutting humour. Unfortunately, I do feel that I have to mark it down for a largely disappointing ending and the use of the 2nd person perspective that just seems pretentious really. 3.5/5

Next review: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Signing off,

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