Sharp by Alex Hughes
Reading level: Adult
eARC: 352 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Release date: April 2, 2013
Series: Mindspace Investigations #2
Source: Review copy from publisher
Reviewed by: Jenn
HISTORY HAS A WAY OF REPEATING ITSELF, EVEN FOR TELEPATHS.…
As a Level Eight telepath, I am the best police interrogator in the department. But I’m not a cop—I never will be—and my only friend on the force, Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino, is avoiding me because of a telepathic link I created by accident.
And I might not even be an interrogator for much longer. Our boss says unless I pull out a miracle, I’ll be gone before Christmas. I need this job, damn it. It’s the only thing keeping me sane.
Parts for illegal Tech—the same parts used to bring the world to its knees in the Tech Wars sixty years ago—are being hijacked all over the city. Plus Cherbino’s longtime nemesis, a cop killer, has resurfaced with a vengeance. If I can stay alive long enough, I just might be able to prove my worth, once and for all…
If you follow my other blog, you’ll know that I’ve really enjoyed the first couple stories in Alex Hughes’ Mindspace Investigations. Her debut novel, CLEAN, was great and the follow-up e-novella, which bridges the gap between CLEAN and her newest novel, SHARP, is probably one of the best novellas I’ve read lately. Needless to say, I was excited to get my hands on SHARP!
Since this is the first time I’m discussing the Mindspace Investigations series here on Tynga’s Reviews, though, I feel like I should give you a primer on the series, so I’m cannibalizing part of my review of CLEAN to give you a bit of context:
Alex Hughes’ Mindspace Investigations are set in a dark, not-terribly-distant future in Atlanta. In the aftermath of the Tech Wars (which happened about 60 years before the series picks up), people don’t trust technology anymore so almost everything is back to the trusted pen-and-paper methodology. The only reason the world survived the Tech Wars? The Telepaths’ Guild stepped up and saved everyone, by being super scary. (So far, we don’t have a lot of details but you can probably imagine how ruthless they had to be since the Tech Wars were ravaging parts of the world.) As a result, the Guild has the right to self-government but no one trusts them that much.
Adam, the main character of the series, was a shining star in the Guild until he got hooked on Satin, a fancy drug, and lost his job and got kicked out of the Guild. Now, he works for the local police department with his partner Detective Isabella Cherebino, solving crimes and working the interrogation room, trying to resist the urge to fall back into his addiction. He doesn’t have any friends from his previous life but he’s working hard to make the most of the opportunity he has, even when that means going up against the Guild. He does, however, have a mentor named Swartz, who I love, and a couple cops on his side, including Cherebino, who he’s pretty much in love with, and Bellury, the officer in charge of his day-to-day activities. He’s also got a champion higher up in the police force named Paulsen, who finds him extremely useful and keeps him around even though there are a lot of cops who’d be happy to see him go, and more than happy to help Adam find his way out.
In CLEAN, Adam stopped a crazy man from stealing tech from the Guild (who’s not supposed to have tech), at the cost of damaging his telepathy. In PAYOFF, we saw part of his recovery but his brain still isn’t 100% by the time we hit the first pages of SHARP.
There’s also an e-novella that bridges CLEAN and SHARP but it’s not essential reading. PAYOFF is great fun (my review here) but definitely not 100% necessary to understand what’s going on in SHARP, assuming you’ve read CLEAN.
With all of that out of the way, I should probably start talking about SHARP, the whole reason I’m writing this post. =)
SHARP is a really solid detective story wrapped in some amazing dystopian urban fantasy paper. The police investigation is what kick starts the narrative and really propels the story to its rather epic conclusion, so it’s essential for me that the mystery is strong and that I can’t predict what’s going to happen. And Hughes does a fantastic job of creating a strong procedural plot line. There are hints about what’s to come but I was genuinely surprised by many of the turns that the murder investigation took.
On top of a tough case, Adam is forced to defend his position in the department in the face of cutbacks, which is extra challenging since his telepathy is on the fritz. Budget cuts are a very realistic and mundane threat when compared to illegal Tech but it definite adds to the tension. I really liked the juxtaposition of an everyday problem with a potentially global danger.
Another thing I appreciate about this series is that Hughes has created a fantastic world and that everything is logical within this universe. There are a bunch of different Abilities but the most common one is telepathy. As with all Abilities, people have varying degrees of power, and Adam is a very strong telepath. We get to learn a bit more about his history with the Guild, thanks to interactions with people from his past, and there are also some really great moments in the present, as he wrestles to deal with his faltering telepathy.
And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say anything about Adam’s very complicated relationship with Cherabino. He’s in love with her but her feelings are a bit more complicated, especially because she hates the Link that inadvertently grew between the two of them from Adam’s repeated use of Cherabino as an anchor while surfing through Mindspace. Their relationship kind of reminds me of Harry Dresden and Karrin Murphy in the early Dresden Files and I’m very curious to see what will happen. I don’t think I want them to get romantic because I love the tension but I do hope to see the relationship continue to develop in some capacity.
If you’re looking for a great series featuring strong procedural elements and a fantastic, well built urban fantasy world, you should definitely check out Alex Hughes’ Mindspace Investigations. You won’t be sorry!
You okay? came Cherabino’s thought again, frustrated. Tap, tap, her mind against mine, tap, tap, as if she could somehow feel my distress and reacted with impatience instead of care. Tap, tap, along the long yellow line back to the real world.
I followed that line, hand over hand, inch by painful blind inch, laboriously surfacing, one overwhelming moment at a time. She kept tapping. She kept pushing. It was the only thing that got me all the way there.
I woke to the clear view of the floor and my knees, twelve inches from the bloodstain, my nose overcome with bad smells. I hadn’t thrown up. I could say that much. And—mind shaking, aching, shivering in reaction pain, I realized I was back to mind-deaf. My head rang with pain, pain—but no emotion. I was deaf and blind again.
“You okay?” Cherabino asked.
I shook my head—and immediately thought better of it; the movement made the world spin.
My eyes caught the victim’s foot, her bare foot on the tile, and I saw a small tattoo, a circle of wavy lines, neurons, encircling a stylized S and Q. I sat down hard, on the tile. I knew that tattoo.
I knew that tattoo, and in combination with it the female mind, or who she’d once been. Her name hadn’t been Hamilton when I’d known her, but she hadn’t been married. Emily, her name had been. Even through the overwhelming pain in my head, I couldn’t let go of the thought. Emily had been one of my best advanced students, years ago. Before it all fell apart. Before her mind twisted into a knot—into something not an Abled mind anymore. Before I’d done the unthinkable.
“Are you okay?” Cherabino repeated.
I fought the guilt and the disorientation of seeing Emily again, seeing her dead. I fought the exposure sickness, the injury. I sat on them, hard, and built a barrier between us with bleeding fingers. Cherabino couldn’t know. She knew too many of my failures as it was.
One small knee shuffle at a time, I moved back, away from Emily. It wasn’t her fault she smelled of urine, dried blood, and darker things, but it wasn’t mine either.
“Well, did the husband do it?” Freeman asked.
“Are you okay?” Cherabino repeated.
I pulled myself to my feet and fished out my sunglasses over my now-light-sensitive eyes. “Unless the husband’s an ex-SEAL or something,” I said in a rasp, “somebody else did it. And now, unless there’s some kind of emergency, I’ll be in the car.”
Uncaring of reactions, I stumbled out of the devil house, away from the seat of every failure I’d ever had, down the stupid steep stairs, and climbed into the backseat of the cop car. I needed to be horizontal. Now.