The City & the City by China Mieville

A good if somewhat strange book.

It’s basically a straight forward detective story apart from its location. It’s set in the twin cities of Beszel and Il Quoma. These are not two cities that sit across a river from each other but rather they co-exist alongside each other in the same geographical location. Some streets are only Beszel, some Il Quoma, some are split amongst both to varying degrees.

People are taught from a young age to ‘unsee’ the others, look at only the people and streets that are part of the city you were born into. As you can guess it can create problems for tourists. Into this setting a young woman is found murdered and the case is assigned to Detective Borlu in Beszel, it seems relatively straight forward at first but then changes into something deeper and more complex and involves ‘going abroad’ to Il Quoma and working with a detective over there.

I’m not a huge fan of detective novels so that’s why it probably didn’t work for me totally. The detective part of it was good but what I really wanted to know was how a city like this could have happened. It’s set in ‘our’ world, somewhere in eastern Europe and the bits of history we’re exposed to makes me want to know lots more about it, the ‘pre-cursor’ age in particular. It’s all from the POV of Detective Borlu and he is interesting but seems somewhat generic cop who lives for his job.

There are hints that come up of a third city within the cities, Orsiny, and that brings Breach into it, a kind of secret police that makes sure nobody sees or does anything with anything or anybody other than the city they live in. Honestly without the setting and the things that that brings up such as unseeing the other and Breach, it would be just another crime novel. But it’s that very setting that makes this book interesting. It takes a while to get your head around it but once you do it flows along. The whole concept is probably some statement about our society; racism, nationalism, anybody who is other but I’m not sure if there is something in particular the author wanted to highlight.

While I didn’t enjoy it as much as Perdito Street Station, you definitely know it’s a book by the same author and it’s different enough that it could probably be enjoyed by fans of both crime and speculative fiction, or anybody looking for something a bit out of the ordinary.

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