When a man is murdered on the Ceres space colony, there’s only one detective who can crack the case: Josephus Miller. Unfortunately, he’s a character in a different, much better book; so I guess we’ll have to make do with Rafe Sirocco’s slow, plodding investigation instead. Sure, why not. Let’s inspect Murder on Ceres, by C. Weber Wagner.
In space, anything can happen. Rafe Sirocco, an intelligent, by the book detective, thinks he has his life under control. Successful in his job with the Ceres Colony Police Department and happily married to his newly pregnant wife, Rafe prepares for his first ever trip to Earth. But humans are still humans and murder happens. Balancing the demands of his job and his responsibilities to his family, Rafe investigates the suspicious death of a Consortium accountant. Suicide? Overdose? Homicide? Not his upcoming trip to Earth, not his independent and fiery wife, nothing will keep him from the case. Through a whirlwind of illicit drugs, space pirates, and secret identities, Detective Rafe Sirocco chases the truth all 266,000,000 miles from the shining cylinder of Ceres Colony to the alien landscapes of Earth. But will he make it in time to save the one person that matters to him most?
In space, anything can happen… but it doesn’t. Nothing happens. This book is dull, so dull. Usually, in a detective story like this, there’s some form of risk and excitement: the detective gets jumped by hired goons, or has to sneak into a restricted area to gather evidence, or gets into a high-speed chase, or something. Anything! Not here. No, Rafe performs his work in complete safety: discussing the boring minutiae of the victim’s boring life with helpful and non-hostile witnesses; going through phone records and bank statements; and sitting back in complete safety in the command center watching video footage taken by actual on-the-scene investigators. He’s a perfect example of why we don’t see many stories about firmly anchored cannons who do play by the rules. It’s probably proper police procedure, but it’s damn uninteresting storytelling.
Then there’s the writing style. It is of course cliche for books to start with a seemingly exciting action scene only to reveal it to be a dream or some other fake-out, but the first three sentences of this book must set the record for giving up on the pretense:
TS-17 Raiders screamed overhead. A flaming groundcraft hurtled towards him. “Off,” he said and exited the comfort bubble into the silent hotel room.
– Murder on Ceres, Chapter 1
Really? Really? Just what was the point of that? Ugh.
The mystery is no great shakes, either. The instant TePaki made that winking comment about seeing Mark again, it was obvious that Mark had faked his death; so when that was revealed as the huge shocking twist of the book, it fell kind of flat for me. And the climax just struck me as bizarre. Usually there’s a denouement, a wrapping up of loose ends; but here, it’s just a sudden avalanche to kill off the bad guy, a few short sentences saying that Rafe and Terren were unharmed, and then the end. It doesn’t even confirm that the avalanche did kill Mark (though I’m assuming it did, since it would be karmically appropriate); and there’s no closure at all as to what happens to TePaki, Ballesteros, or that guy on Ceres who was selling bad Halo gas. The story doesn’t conclude so much as just stop.
Hey, what was up with that Halo gas, anyway? I know, its role in the story is to serve as a futuristic equivalent to modern-day drugs. But the book actually gives the name and chemical formula for Halo: it’s CCl3F, Trichloroflouromethane. That’s an actual real world substance which, so far as I can tell, is not in any way a drug or intoxicant. I mean, it’d be fine to give an existing drug like Halothane a new futuristic “street” name (look, Halothane even starts with Halo); but it breaks suspension of disbelief to say that everyone is getting high on something that doesn’t actually get you high.
Yeah, I can’t recommend this one. Go ahead and throw Murder on Ceres out the airlock.
Final Rating: 2/5