Nick Harkaway: Titanium Noir (2023, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group) 5 stars

Cal Sounder is a detective working for the police on certain very sensitive cases. So …

An enjoyable, dark thriller in a weird world

4 stars

None of Harkaway's books are quite like one another, and they're all worth your time.

Like the pulp that inspires it, Titanium Noir is a short piece that rolls along a brisk pace. The protagonist, Cal Sounder, is a bridge between two worlds. He lives and works as a detective, doing private work and consulting for the police of Chersenesos, but has ties to the level of society occupied by those so obscenely wealthy their very being is a mixture of unsettling and glamorous both for the other characters and for us readers. When crimes involve one of these hyper-rich, Sounder is brought in to smooth things over. The book starts with Sounder arriving on scene for a crime much too complex and messy for the easier fixes he's used to.

Sounder navigates a crime, a world, and a story in which power is manifested very directly as something brutal and inhuman, something which transforms the people who have it. As the detective slowly, painstakingly pieces things together we meet his mettle and resolve in a world where no one is innocent, everyone is beholden, and everyone is more wise to the seediness of the world than you are.

It's a vaguely alter-world, somewhere between the concrete of classic city noir, a very human present, and a vague, possible future. The quasi-mythical Chersenesos is more medically advanced than us, but at the same time no one ever mentions carrying or using a mobile phone.

As metaphors for brutality of wealth and power it is not subtle, but this is not a genre of subtlety, and like many brutal things it is quite effective. And in the end, I think, also satisfying.