Review: Clean by Alex Hughes

clean by alex hughesFormat read: mass market paperback provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: Urban fantasy; science fiction
Series: Mindspace Investigations, #1
Length: 351 pages
Publisher: Roc
Date Released: September 4, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

I used to work for the Telepath’s Guild before they kicked me out for a drug habit that wasn’t entirely my fault. Now I work for the cops, helping Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino put killers behind bars.

My ability to get inside the twisted minds of suspects makes me the best interrogator in the department. But the normals keep me on a short leash. When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do it—real scary.

Now the cops don’t trust the telepaths, the Guild doesn’t trust me, a serial killer is stalking the city—and I’m aching for a fix. But I need to solve this case. Fast. I’ve just had a vision of the future: I’m the next to die.

My Review:

The first book in Alex Hughes’ Mindspace Investigations series is one of those stories for which the concept of “book hangover” was invented. I was so completely absorbed by her vision of near-future slightly-dystopian Atlanta, and not just because I used to live there.

This is a dark and gritty landscape in a paranoid post-Tech Wars future. Admiral Adama (Battlestar Galactica) would feel right at home, because what little Tech they have left is not allowed to network with much other Tech, for fear it might get itself together and fight back. Again.

But in order to fight off the viruses created in the Tech Wars, they unleashed something even more potentially dangerous. Some people have developed telepathic powers. And in return for bringing the Tech Wars to an end, the Guild of Telepaths won the right of self-governance.

They seem to be a “state within a state”. Some people with Ability don’t have enough to be more than sensitive. Others are forced to register with the Guild and live under Guild jurisdiction for the rest of their lives. It can be a pretty cushy life, unless you screw up.

And then there’s our hero. The story is told from his first-person perspective, so we don’t know his name until the very last line of the book. (You don’t call yourself by your name very often, do you?)

Our hero is a consultant with the DeKalb County Police Department. And he is way beyond screwed up. He used to be the darling of the Guild, until he got addicted to a very dangerous narcotic called Satin. Now he clings to sobriety by his fingernails and by resting a little too often in the Mindspace of his police detective partner, Isabella Cherabino.

Until his past comes hunting for him, racking up a body count all over the county. Someone in the Guild has a score to settle with him, and he doesn’t even remember why. All he knows is that he has a vision of death that he has to prevent, any way he can. Even if no one trusts him enough to believe him.

payoff by alex hughesEscape Rating A+: I loved Clean so much I bought the novella, Payoff, the instant I finished. The world that Alex Hughes has created is absolutely awesome, and I want to wallow in it. I wouldn’t live there if you paid me, but I want to keep reading until my eyeballs fall out.

Her flawed hero is somebody special. The darling who forgets who he stepped on when he was climbing up, and then gets kicked on the way down. All the way down. He’s vulnerable and wounded and still trying so damn hard to just get through each day clean. Sometimes he fails, and we feel his control slipping. He reminds me a lot of the variation of Sherlock in Elementary; the addict who is using his cases and being needed to solve them as an alternative drug. Hughes’ hero has fallen further and broken harder, he’s also cracked open more and has learned the value of some of the social niceties. But there’s a kinship.
Cherabino seems like the classic combination of tough chick and by-the-book cop, until we find out what made her that way, and then this hidden core of pain is revealed. She’s still tough and she’s still by-the-book, but there’s so much more to her character.

Someday there might even be a romance, but in the fine tradition of urban fantasy, I expect to wait an excellent long while for it.

About the case itself…this was a time where the first-person perspective worked very well (it doesn’t always). Our hero doesn’t remember why the villain is targeting him, so he can’t reveal what he doesn’t know. And the villain is more than a bit off his rocker. Adding to the tension is the need for the hero to decide how many of the Guild’s secrets he can afford to reveal to his police employers in these particular circumstances, where a telepathic serial killer is dumping bodies all over the landscape, bringing the attention of the newspapers to secrets the Guild would rather be kept, well, secret.

Cops, killers, telepaths and stellar worldbuilding. What’s not to love?

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