Book Review: The Ultra Thin Man

The Ultra Thin ManThe Ultra Thin Man by Patrick Swenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me first dissuade you – if you want to read this book because you expect Nick, Nora, and Asta to make an appearance, this isn’t that kind of Thin Man. Nor is this “Gumshoe – In Space!” – not quite. There is a certain homage to Dashiell Hammett in this novel, a flair of the noir in its tongue in cheek references to fedoras and trenchcoats, private investigators, and hunting down criminal masterminds in modern speakeasies. It is very much a science fiction novel, though, of that variety of thriller that was popular at the end of the pulp era. Good guys vs bad, agents on the run and the fate of society in their hands.

Set nearly a century away, humanity has made contact with two other sentient species, acquired FTL travel, and colonized other planets. A political movement has risen up that threatens the peace of the Union, and our two gumshoes, hired on as contractors by a government agency, are trying to track down the location of the leader of the Movement, the alien Helk known as Terl Plenko. Things go from bad to worse when a terrorist attack causes the moon Ribon to crash into the planet it orbits, destroying settlements on both worlds.

The mystery is light, but the tension is kept steady in this science fiction thriller. What may cause some issues for some readers is the disorienting switch in POV between chapters. The novel is written from the perspective of our two chief protagonists, but only one of them is in the first person. The other character’s story is written loosely in the third person. In the ARC, this perspective slipped a few times, and I really hope this is an artifact of the pre-edit condition of the novel and not something that made it to print. Because without that detraction, the novel was a lot of fun, fully earning the four stars I’ve given it. Although the post-climax epilogue ties off some threads while ignoring others, I think that’s just Swenson hedging his bets. I’m sure this volume will do well enough to garner more gumshoe stories set in his Union universe.

Special thanks to Tor Books, who allowed me to read an ARC of this novel on netgalley.

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