The Caline Conspiracy, by M.H. Mead
Posted May 29, 2016on:
published in 2012
where I got it: received review copy from the author (thanks!)
Do you like mystery thrillers? Do you like smartly written characters involved with right around the corner technology? Do you find yourself having to balance day time stuff chaos with family chaos?
I just heard a lot of Yeses. The Caline Conspiracy, part of the Detroit Next series by M.H. Mead, is a book for you! (Check out my interview with Alex Kourvo, who is half of the M.H. Mead writing team)
In the near future, messing around with human genetics is frowned upon, but messing with animal genetics is big business. Realizing how much we spend on our pets, the newest and most lucrative trend are genetically modified pets. Calines, which look like a small dog, but include canine and feline genetics, offer the loyalty of a dog, the intelligence of a young child, the cuddle factor of a cat, and are completely hypoallergenic. Calines are expensive as heck, but they truly are the perfect pet.
Private investigator Aidra Scott’s newest client is the very recently widowed Gloria Frithke. Mrs. Frithke’s husband was found dead in their home, his throat torn out and the family caline standing nearby. The pet did it, of course. But Gloria is convinced there is something bigger going on. Can Aidra get to the bottom of the mystery before the evidence is destroyed, and Mr. Frithke’s research is lost forever?
At first blush, looks like a standard mystery novel with a few speculative fiction elements, right? Well…… Almost. Along with the expected trappings of your standard mystery thriller, things like great pacing, chapters that end on smartly written cliffhangers, spying on people, and sneaky PI stuff, The Caline Conspiracy has well-presented scifi tech that blends seamlessly into the plot, excellent worldbuilding, and one of my new favorite protagonists: Aidra Scott.
As cool as the technology is, the best parts about this book are Aidra and the world Mead has created. Smart as a whip, and master of the “let others underestimate you” game, I loved that Aidra balances the chaos of a job that doesn’t have normal hours with the responsibilities of having a family. Work life balance? Family obligations and complications? Oh yeah, I can relate to that. I also got a kick out of Aidra’s “female gaze”, the way she notices if men are handsome. She’s divorced, not dead, you know, so why shouldn’t she notice handsome guys? I’m so used to male characters taking notice of if women are attractive, it was fun to have that flipped around. It’s rare for me find near-future thriller protagonists who have families, so Aidra was really refreshing. And then of course there’s the value of two quarters, which will just break your heart.
All of the Detroit Next stories take place in the Detroit metropolitan area, and it was neat for me (I grew up in the Detroit metro area) to see towns, roads, and border crossings I recognized. Setting readers up to want to learn more about the world, Mead has characters talk about the “Zone”, but we don’t really know what the Zone is. So many authors want to tell their readers everything there possibly is to know about the world, and Mead employs the Less of More philosophy – tell your reader just less than they want to know, and they’ll always want to know more. Mead has made the Detroit metro area recognizable to us natives, and just different enough that if you’ve never even been to Michigan, you won’t have a problem finding your way around.
I also liked how Mead presents the right-around-the-corner technology to build the foundation of the story. Genetically modified pets? Especially annoying paparazzi? One computer in your house that functions as thermostat, shopping list, answering machine, and TV? An admin assistant who might live in Florida, might be a mechanical turk team, or might be someone or something completely different? All of this technology only adds to the story – none of it is window dressing, none of it is a plot device or distraction. It’s all there because it needs to be, because it’s the foundation of the world.
The Caline Conspiracy was highly enjoyable and satisfying to read, perfectly paced, had awesome characters, and was just damn fun. My only regret is that I read it too fast, because it was over too soon! There are a bunch of Detroit Next novels and novellas floating around, and they can be read in any order. I think the next one I’m going to read is Zoners. Because I want to find out what the Zone is! And if I’m really lucky, I’ll get some more hints about Morris. I wanna figure him out!