When you read Peter F Hamilton you’re not just turning the pages of a book, but rather following the strands of a complex tapestry. He creates a universe where the story has a neatly fitting context. Great North Road starts off as a whodunnit but if you’re familiar with Hamilton’s work you’ll know that it is just the beginning of a slow burning intrigue. The cyberpunk genre has been developing steadily over the last few decades and while William Gibson might be credited with playing a huge part in its creation, Hamilton was the upstart king in waiting and is now very much a threat to Gibson’s crown.
It begins with a murder in Newcastle. Not only is it unusual but the victim is a member of the powerful North family, and so the investigation spirals complicatedly outwards encompassing corporate espionage, alien invasion, and past transgressions once again rearing their heads.
The killing bears the hallmarks of a similar event twenty years previously on the paradise planet of St Libra and the sole survivor, Angela Tramelo, is serving a life sentence as the perpetrator despite her claims of innocence and that it was a vicious alien attack.
Detective Sidney Hurst is back to work after a period of forced leave which is just one of those seeds of intrigue that Hamilton sews into his novels that keeps you going. The high profile murder case is his salvation; even though he is a long-in-the-tooth cop there’s still plenty of life in him yet, but there are others who would gladly see him out of the way permanently.
The main players have a linked past which brings them back together, and they are believable with their flaws, if a little stereotypical – the cop who breaks the rules to do the right thing, the girl out for her revenge and her nemesis come reluctant ally, the investigator of the original crime who refuses to believe she’s innocent and who’s actions are driven by deep rooted religious beliefs.
Redemption permeates through all of the characters, each of whom have a past they’d rather forget and the efforts of now are focused on burying rotten memories. But as is often the case in stories of redemption the chains of an ugly past are rarely unshackled and carry tragic consequences.
Hurst is the anchor to reality in the story, his linear narrative a constant grounding for the real passage of time. Whereas our heroine, Angela Tramelo, and the other key players who all have a shared past together, there are stories interspersed with flashbacks filling the gaps that brought Angela to her current situation.
Sometimes when the narrative is structured like this it can have a stuttering effect to the story, even killing the flow. However Hamilton doesn’t waste a single word, and the slow reveal of information fills in the gaps to parts of the story that you think run parallel, but are in fact intertwined, becoming ultimately and satisfyingly clear at the novel’s conclusion.
Hamilton’s style is direct and uncomplicated while maintaining pace that keeps the pages turning. His intelligent use of language flows beautifully, avoids becoming laborious and seamlessly pulls together the storylines towards the finale.
Full cover artwork
Even characters that might seem incidental have their important role to play, often not becoming clear until much later. All of the main characters carry their past like a weight across their shoulders and much of their action now is driven by the personal need for redemption, revenge and the dogged pursuit of justice no matter what the cost.
The slow exposure of each facet and flaw of the characters gives a greater understanding and rounded feel to them, almost like making a friend in real life. It takes several encounters to really get to know someone, and the character development of Great North Road works in the same manner, learning something about their past when your relationship has reached an appropriate point for it to be shared.
A genuine love and care develops for the characters and after the turn of the last page, despite the thoroughly satisfying ending you lament the departure of the people contained within the pages.
A number of Hamilton’s works strongly centre around the police procedural while also forcing the protagonists to question the very idea of human existence on a religious, philosophical and technological standpoint. Great North Road does the same, starting out as a simple murder mystery then growing into something so much more when faced with a seemingly unstoppable alien that could spell and end to human existence and another with the power to do the same but who learns a level of benevolence and cooperation, humbling our human arrogance in the pursuit of universal cooperation.
Great North Road is Peter F Hamilton at his finest. I was hooked from the beginning, each turn of the page a reminder of why I love to read.
Great North Road is published by Macmillan and will be released 27th September 2012