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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Jack Glass

Adam Roberts

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To purchase Jack Glass

Title: Jack Glass
Author: Adam Roberts
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012
Length: 373 pages
Availability: Jack Glass - US
Jack Glass - UK
Jack Glass - Canada
Jack Glass - France
  • A Golden Age Story

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Our Assessment:

B : reasonably enjoyable mix of mystery and science fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 10/8/2012 Christopher Priest
The Telegraph . 20/12/2012 Tim Martin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Jack Glass is a lightweight but enjoyable read, commendably different from anything else. Its strength lies in its lively writing. (...) Much of the book is told through dialogue, which introduces wit, if not depth, and keeps the story moving. (...) Two reservations. The solution of the mystery is worked out through a series of symbolic dream sequences; the reader therefore has to pay attention to some turgid stuff or risk losing the plot. And the author's inexplicable habit of italicising just about every tenth word quickly creates the impression that everyone in the book is constantly waving their hands in the air, waggling their eyebrows and generally overdoing things." - Christopher Priest, The Guardian

  • "(A) dazzling trio of locked-room murder-mysteries set in a brittle future autarchy, drawing heavily on golden-age SF but even more from the English detective stories of Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh." - Tim Martin, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In a brief opening section to Jack Glass, a narrator explains s/he will: "doctorwatson for your benefit, o reader" this narrative, hearkening back to Sherlock Holmes-times and -type mysteries despite a future (and scientifically much more advanced) setting. Here, too, already it is explained that the tale will be presented: "in the form of a murder mystery; or, to be more precise (and at all costs we must be precise) three, connected murder mysteries".
       Jack Glass then unfolds as a three-part novel, each with a variation on the locked-room mystery at the heart. Common to them is one notorious figure -- Jack Glass --, who drives the action, even if he does not seem, at least at first, the central figure in at least the first two of the mysteries; indeed, he's not even clearly identified, at first, as Jack Glass in either of these.
       The first part of the novel, 'In the Box', features a group of seven prisoners beginning their sentence, an ingenious punishment that sees them injected and locked into, essentially, a frozen asteroid -- Lamy306 --, with a bit of machinery with which they can hollow it out. Survival is possible, if not easy, and depends on their finding ice (water) to sustain themselves and grow food; the idea is that when their (in this case, eleven-year) sentence is up, they'll be collected again, and the hollowed out and habitable asteroid sold off for commercial use.
       Roberts describes this punishment, and how the prisoners adapt to their circumstances, very well; it's a neat little sci-fi story in it its own right, complete with the complex social dynamics that result. Jack Glass is known as Jac here, a legless prisoner who won't reveal what crime he was charged with. Jac has a problem -- beyond being stuck in this place, with these people --: he isn't guilty of the specific thing he was sentenced for. And what he is really concerned about is the powers that be discovering who he really is, and what he really did -- knowing that when they do, he faces a punishment infinitely worse than this (hard though that is to imagine).
       Jack Glass is no innocent; he admits that he's done bad things, and over the course of the novel he will come to commit more than one murder. He certainly has a reputation: there's this apparent: "knack he has for making the impossible happen", for example, and he is feared as: "the father of lawlessness". As to why the authorities would be so interested in him, that is only slowly revealed. The brief introductory section mentions the : "'alleged' discovery of a method of travelling faster than light" and "the murders and betrayals and violence this discovery has occasioned", but in the confines of Lamy306 this certainly doesn't seem to come into play yet.
       Despite the sense of urgency, Jac must bide some time in his asteroid-prison. For one, escape looks ... unlikely. Still, he does feel the need to get out of there before the authorities figure out their mistake -- and, eventually, he does. Somewhat messily, but still.
       The second part of the novel, 'The FTL Murders', seems a leap to a completely different story. Among the few common elements is the ruling Ulanov System -- the powers that be -- and the question of the possibility of faster than light (FTL) motion, but little else. And Jack Glass -- physically distinctive as he is, lacking legs and all -- at first doesn't appear to play a role here (though, yes, eventually he very much does).
       The setting here is Korkura, on earth, where sisters Diana and Eva Argent are spending a month before Diana's sixteenth birthday, looked over by their retinue of trusty (because drugged to be trusty) servants. The Argents are one of the five clans right under the Ulanovs in the Solar System hierarchy -- and thus have enemies among the other clans vying for favor and power. And when there is a murder, there is reason for concern: of the locked room sort, it can only have been one of the servants, it seems -- but perhaps signals greater danger.
       Diana is thrilled by the murder, or rather the possibility of solving it; she's a murder-mystery aficionado and couldn't imagine a better birthday present than her very own locked-room murder mystery. The older Eva, meanwhile, is annoyed at being distracted from working on her seventh PhD.
       The locked room mystery is, ultimately, rather incidental to events, which come rather to a head, with Diana finding herself on the run with the notorious Jack Glass and one of her servants. Their flight is at the heart of the final part of the novel, 'The Impossible Room', where yet another murder eventually takes place, in a bubble-like structure that Jack Glass calls home and which again involves a small group of people who don't seem to have been able to commit the murder, and no physical trace of an outsider -- another baffling case, "a locked-room mystery and a half", even.
       The question of faster-than-light motion does prove to be ever-more significant. The authorities believe Jack Glass has the answers, and they'll do anything to get them out of him. But given that it's supposed to be a physical impossibility .....
       It's a quite a bit that Roberts juggles in his novel, from power struggles at the highest level to golden-age mystery homages to questions of the possible consequences of the most advanced technologies. The mix sits a bit uneasily. Roberts does a great deal very well, particularly the scene- and world-building: his locales, from the asteroid of the first part to the earth of the second and the Sump and Jack Glass' hideaway of the third, are particularly impressively presented and utilized. The mysteries, on the other hand, are a bit underwhelming, one by one -- though admittedly the larger plot is more intriguing.
       It makes for a mixed bag, quite gripping going along, but not entirely satisfying, a very ambitious idea that isn't quite as impressive in this three-piece-meal presentation.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 November 2019

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Jack Glass: Reviews: Adam Roberts: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Adam Roberts was born in 1965.

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© 2019 the complete review

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