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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Midnight, Water City

Chris McKinney

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To purchase Midnight, Water City

Title: Midnight, Water City
Author: Chris McKinney
Genre: Novel
Written: 2021
Length: 305 pages
Availability: Midnight, Water City - US
Midnight, Water City - UK
Midnight, Water City - Canada
  • The first volume in The Water City Trilogy

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Our Assessment:

B : long too frenetic, but a decent mystery/action-thriller emerges in the end

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 7/4/2021 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Set in the 22nd century, this exceptional mystery-SF hybrid from McKinney, a trilogy kickoff, boasts impressive worldbuilding and a classic morally compromised lead thrust into a high-stakes homicide investigation." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Midnight, Water City is set in 2142. The world apparently avoided complete catastrophe 40 years earlier, when an asteroid bore down on earth but a direct hit was averted by a cosmic ray-firing weapon, the massive Ascalon (with the permanent slash in the sky it left behind, Ascalon's Scar, still visible). The woman who discovered the Sessho-seki asteroid and the danger it posed, years before it was anywhere close to earth, and who then developed the weapon to save the earth from it striking it, was the brilliant Akira Kimura, hailed, thereafter, as the savior of the world.
       The novel's narrator is now eighty years old -- though medical advances mean that that is hardly much of an age; if no longer nearly as sprightly as he once was, he's still in good shape and has decades more of life to look forward to. He notes that not only was the world saved forty years earlier, but that that crisis also marked a turning point: "Ascalon's Scar struck us like Cupid's arrow, charming us into our still-current love affair with the planet". Many of the threats to mankind of previous centuries have been dealt with -- "No more terrorists, global warming, nukes" -- though enough damage was done that much proved irreversible; much of the world remains heavily polluted, for example. So also, much of mankind has moved offshore, living on and under the oceans, including in seascrapers that extend down into the depths rather than up.
       Ubiquitous too are iEs -- personal devices resembling smartphones but with much greater capabilities, including that of recording everything its owner does. Mostly, they are still used by people much the way smartphones already are:

(T)o communicate. To share their favorite things. To vid themselves eating. [...] (T)o consume entertainment. To gossip. To game. Walk in simulation. Bathe themselves in it. Drown themselves in it. To gain fifteen minutes' worth of knowledge, then call themselves experts.
       They are also a complete record of their owners' lives, complete also with strong privacy laws that prevent the authorities from easily accessing the information.
       When Akira was developing Ascalon, the narrator was essentially her personal security detail, dealing with what were perceived to be the greatest threats to her and her work (as there were doubters and naysayers who opposed the enormous and costly project). In that capacity, he had to eliminate several of the threats -- something that he can justify but obviously still weighs on him.
       The novel opens with the narrator having been summoned by Akira, who has: "been getting the weird sense that she's in danger". When he arrives at her home -- the lowest level in Volcano Vista, "the world's largest seascraper" -- he quickly sees that Akira was right to be concerned -- and that he is too late. Akira has been murdered, deep frozen and surgically cut apart.
       The narrator is a policeman, and he tries to follow procedure, but this is both too personal and too big -- Akira is the most revered person on earth -- for him to stay that course for long. He essentially goes rogue -- including quitting his job -- and quickly finds himself drawn into a baffling situation where he is also treated as a suspect (as Akira is not the only one who dies here).
       The narrator has already gone through a couple of marriages, and as he is drawn into investigating Akira's murder it looks like his current one, to Sabrina, will have a tough time withstanding the strains put on it as well. Instead, he finds her a pillar of support -- and a good thing, too, since he has few other people to turn to. (The few he does prove fairly helpful, too, however.)
       McKinney's build-up is a bit choppy -- like the ocean-dwellings that bounce around with the tides --, with its mix of world-building and the back and forth between the narrator's past with Akira and the events of four decades earlier and the present-day action. The narrator's unique abilities -- he was born with colorblindness and a striking form of synesthesia which allows him to sense threats -- add an odd, essentially supernatural element that McKinney leans on fairly heavily; it makes for some vivid tension and drama, but is also a weirdly fantastical element in a novel and world that is otherwise so grounded in the realistic and technical.
       If it takes quite a while for the story to settle in, once it becomes clear what is behind Akira's death -- even if at first only in its roughest outlines -- the novel becomes -- for the better -- more of a traditional mystery and cat-and-mouse game. The narrator comes to learn that there was more to Akira than he knew -- even though he knew her very well -- and if her main long-buried secret at first seems a bit over the top, it eventually takes shape quite neatly, making also for a motive behind the bizarre crime(s). A nice touch on top of that is the questions about Akira's great accomplishment that come to the fore as well. (The fact that Akira apparently did not have an iE of her own -- essentially unheard of in these times -- also comes into play.)
       Midnight, Water City is certainly action-packed -- at times arguably far too much so, with the narrator anything but an old geezer (even if the action certainly wears him down). Still, although billed as the first volume in a trilogy, Midnight, Water City also comes to a neat and full conclusion, a dramatic final showdown making for a satisfying high-point ending; the novel easily works as a stand-alone.
       If long a bit too frantic, and with a great deal of backstory slowly filled in over the course of the narrative, Midnight, Water City does eventually come together satisfyingly enough.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 July 2021

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Midnight, Water City: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Chris McKinney was born in 1973.

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© 2021 the complete review

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