Company Town by Madeline Ashby
Company Town by Madeline Ashby was my first book by this author and it really took me by surprise. A book set in the future and based entirely on a town surrounding and built out of an oil rig. This is a harsh world and a somewhat grim landscape but also one with vast leaps forward in terms of technology – not really the sort of book that I would normally be entirely comfortable with and yet I thought it was excellent. At it’s core this is a murder mystery with a twist in the tale and what makes it stand out from the crowd is the great characterisation and world building.
At the start of the story we’re introduced to Hwa who works as a bodyguard for the prostitutes on board the rig. Strict regulations govern the sex worker trade but this doesn’t stop things from getting out of hand on occasion and Hwa is there try to prevent such occurences. On top of that the girls that she protects are her friends, probably her only friends, which makes it all that much worse to come to terms with when Hwa accepts a job as bodyguard for the Lynch company heir. By way of background, the rig suffered an explosion a few years earlier killing a lot of workers and has recently been overtaken by the Lynch Co who have their own plans in place. Of course this is a time of unrest with any inhabitants with the means making a hasty departure. For the less fortunate ones, such as Hwa, there is no means of escape and they simply have to make the best of their lives. Joel, the Heir to the Lynch company seems to have been receiving death threats – hence the need for a new bodyguard. At the same time it seems that a number of deaths start to occur on board the rig and the victims are all former friends of Hwa. Something is seriously rotten in New Arcadia, a deranged killer stalks the decks killing prostitutes in an almost Ripper fashion and the entire town seems to be vulnerable to terrorist attack.
This is such a great combination of well thought out plot, excellent world creation and great characters that I was completely hooked.
To start with Hwa is a wonderful protagonist who I really enjoyed reading about. What is really obvious is that Ashby knows how to put enough flesh on the bones of her characters to lend them credibility. Hwa is a tough cookie and with just cause. Born with Sturge Weber Syndrome and with a mother who refused to spend money doing anything about it (in a world where all sorts of augmentations, implants and other adaptations are available and used regularly by any and every one) Hwa has suffered a life of being different, ridiculed and looked down upon. It’s certainly toughened her up. Hwa is a fantastic combination of tough and prickly exterior protecting a bit of a vulnerable, softer core and I loved this about her. In a world where outside appearances are all that seem to count Hwa cares about people. She’s still genuine and being one of the few ‘organic’ residents left on the rig her lack of augmentation also mean that she’s immune to hackers which makes her a very attractive proposition to the Lynch corporation.
On top of this we have another stellar character in Daniel Siofra. Siofra is a man of mystery, usually appearing in the right place at the right time and being Hwa’s boss he keeps an eye on her comings and goings. You can probably deduce from this that Hwa and Siofra eventually become romantically involved which was as much a surprise to them as it was to me! Let me be clear though, this is not a romantic novel but the relationship between Siofra and Hwa really packs an emotional punch and I loved that element to the story.
I can’t help looking at this review and thinking I’m giving very little away which makes me think that people will be scratching their heads about now and saying what is this book actually about! Well, it’s an intriguing murder mystery with high tech gadgets set in an enclosed and somewhat claustrophobic environment that lends it a more chilling aspect and with a race to find the killer before things go to hell in a handcart. I’ve probably not really cleared things up much with that statement but there it is.
For me this is just a winning story that has characters that I feel for, a world that I can easily picture, often grimy and frequently vicious, a plot line that makes you think it’s one thing and then turns that on it’s head in the most unexpected fashion and great writing.
In terms of criticisms – well, I did have one particular element of the story where I think I lost the plot a little bit and wasn’t quite sure what exactly had just gone on or whether the story had jumped somehow and I’d missed something. There was also quite a bit going on and in that respect I think sometimes it was necessary to slow down a little in order to really absorb the latest revelation. Other than that I thought this was a great read.
I have no hesitation in recommending Company Town, it’s a futuristic murder mystery with a sci fi setting and with extra intrigue ladled on top.
I received a copy through Netgalley courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion