‘City & City’ takes police procedural to the next surreal level

“If Philip K. Dick and Raymond Chandler’s love child were raised by Franz Kafka, the writing that emerged might resemble … The City and The City.” – Los Angeles Times

The above quote is printed on the front cover of my copy of China Mieville’s The City & The City. I use it here because it’s a pretty dead-on representation of the book.

The bizarre landscape of sister cities Beszel and Il Qoma and the unusual political situation feel Dick-ensian. That ability of Kafka to mix the absurd and the dreaded permeates the tale. And while I really only know Chandler by reputation – I’m not much of a mystery guy – the tale of a smart detective who is in way over his head in a murder case that too many powerful people want to go away seems it would be right up Ray’s alley.

But beyond that … how do I describe The City & The City? It’s a pretty basic police procedural at first glance: A young woman is killed, jurisdictional issues come into play, the evidence trail is followed, etc. But there’s also an East Berlin/West Berlin cold war-type situation, yet no physical wall exists between the cities. The division is maintained by Breech, which initially appears to be some combination of dementors and the LAPD. And to this point, I haven’t mentioned unseeing, the secret maybe-it’s-real-maybe-it’s-not city of Orciny and the invasion by a species that seems to be half swordfish, half ape.

OK, so that last part was made up (but now the swordfish-ape picture is in my head). Mieville has created such a unique bureaucracy and setting for his detective story that it’s really hard to drop a quickie review and do his book justice.

And maybe that says more about why you should read this book than I ever could.

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One thought on “‘City & City’ takes police procedural to the next surreal level

  1. […] was blown away by Mieville’s The City & The City, which, oddly enough, I found while looking for a copy of Embassytown. As rich as The City & […]

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