Alien Blues, the first in the David Silver series, was originally written in the 90’s, when I was busy returning to school, having my fourth child and raising the first three. I mention this only because I am dumbfounded that I missed this amazing series the first time around, and that’s the only possible reason; I was too busy trying to find a few minutes in which to sleep back then. Thank goodness Open Road Integrated Media has re-published it digitally. After reading and being really impressed by Flashpoint, another of Hightower’s terrific novels, I searched Net Galley for anything else she had written that was available to read and review, and I scored this little treasure. It’s a brave, bold genre cross of detective fiction and science fiction, and if I can read the others in the series, you had best believe I will.
First, of course, we have a murderer. Machete Man, as he is known, enjoys hacking his victims and their belongings into portable pieces. A nice touch is the would-be victim that gets away and can describe him. He hacks up all her stuff, and we know that if she hadn’t been as quick as she was, she would have been among the sliced and diced items in her bedroom. And I find the scene that occurs later between David’s wife Rose and Machete Man spectacular.
Into the mix we have the murder of an Elaki. Elaki are another species, but to a certain extent they work and interact with humans. They shimmer; they walk on fringe; they have flippers instead of hands. Roof tops are terribly dangerous, because they are slender and lightweight, and can easily blow away in a breeze. They are shorter than humans and because they have no legs, they must fold themselves to ride in an automobile made for humans. Their own are specially adapted. But we learn all these tidbits as we go along. Hightower doesn’t waste a lot of time describing them, but makes everything we learn part of the action. And so String, an Elaki that has never fit in well with his own folk, volunteers to aid in the investigation; some suspect his motives are other than what he says.
Lurking in the background is David’s traumatic past. He grew up in a ghetto, the tunnels underground known as Little Saigo. The tunnels were invented originally to house the wealthiest members of society from Earth’s degraded environment; imagine a carefully controlled housing development where there is no fear of skin cancer or other environmental hazards. But humans tend to crave the sun, and when the rich didn’t want to buy in, the project was never completed. Squatters populated the many half-completed nooks and crannies in the enormous subterranean catacombs, and eventually an implant similar to a microchip was developed so that those that lived there could identify one another, achieving a measure of safety from those that came to pillage and wreak chaos among the vulnerable.
David has not lived in Little Saigo for a long time; he has a modest but comfortable home, a wife, and darling daughters. But ultimately, he is forced to return to Little Saigo, home of his worst nightmares, in order to solve the crime.
Hightower is brilliant. The Elaki are the most memorable nonhuman characters in literature since Spock, and her female characters defy all possible stereotypes. Her pacing, character development, and capacity to develop setting that we can nearly see and breathe is outstanding. She has won the Shamus and her work has been included in the New York Times Most Notable Books list. She’s been published on four continents, and thanks to Open Road Integrated Media, those of us that missed her the first time around can now read her work digitally. And it’s available for sale now.