Tyador Borlu of Beszel's Extreme Crime Squad is assigned to the murder case of an unknown woman. To find her killer, Borlu must go to the neighboring city of Ul Qoma and team with Qussim Dhatt of the Murder Squad. Can the two detectives from different cultures figure out who the victim is and why she was killed?
Wow. The core premise of The City & The City requires some explaining but I think I'm up to the task. Remember those perceptual illusions you were so enamored with when you were a kid? Like the old woman/young girl:
Okay. Instead of images of an old woman and a young girl, picture instead two cities that overlap. People from one city are trained from birth to unsee/unsense people and buildings in the other city. Still with me? Now picture a murder mystery set in one of the intersections between the two cities. Yeah, it was one mindbender of a read.
While The City & The City is firmly in the new weird genre, it's also a gritty crime story, which makes it substantially more accessible than many of Mieville's works. Tyador Borlu and Qussim Dhatt are the bickering cops that secretly grow to respect one another as they unravel a mystery than snakes back and forth between the two neighboring cities. Kind of like Jim Belushi and Arnold in Red Heat, except good.
The thing that makes The City & The City work is that the cities are quite different from one another. While Ul Qoma and Beszel aren't as detailed as New Crobuzon, they are both distinct entities. While the idea of being in one city or the other is really odd, Mieville does a good job of explaining it and making it seem plausible. How often do you actually remember what homeless people look like, for example.
The concept of the Breach is also part of the glue that holds the story together. Part police force, part bogey man, the Breach enforce the unseeing/unsensing of the other city, keeping people from going back and forth between cities with impunity.
There's not a lot else I can say without ruining key plot points. If they were to make a movie of one of China Mieville's books, this would be the one. I kept seeing Ewan MacGregor and Jason Statham as the cops. It reminds me of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles at times, Neverwhere at others, and Jeff Vandermeer's Finch at still other times. I didn't like it quite as much as Finch but it was still spectacular. For fans of both detective fiction and the new weird, it's definitely a must-read. 4.5 out of 5.