An enthralling Sci-Fi thriller, The Furnace by Timothy Johnston is a Space Opera with a difference. It is a case of Agatha Christie meets Issac Asimov with added Crichton for flavouring.
Before saying anything else I will quote from the author’s blurb on Amazon, which gives a broad idea of the actual story line, without giving away too much:-
As a Homicide Investigator working the solar system’s most remote outposts, Lieutenant Kyle Tanner has been involved in more criminal investigations and captures than any other in Security Division. He hunts his prey stealthily, tracking them through the trail of victims cast behind, and makes difficult captures when no one else can. He has seen the twisted remains, things that used to be human but are now barely meat. And he’s executed those who have done such horrible deeds.
His most recent case takes him to SOLEX One, a power-generating station that orbits precariously near the Sun. Among the fifteen inhabitants is a killer, a disturbed crewman who for some reason has mutilated his victim. But when Tanner arrives and begins the investigation, he’s shocked to learn that this is no ordinary murder. There appears to be no motive for the crime, and no reason for the mutilation after death. But what Tanner doesn’t realize is that something terrifying is amplifying among the station’s personnel … and if he doesn’t solve the mystery, the result could be the extinction of the human race.
THE FURNACE is a locked-room murder mystery, part techno-thriller, part horror, part detective story.
So, that is the basic framework of this book, but there is much more to it than the description above would lead you to think. Timothy has taken the well known theme of a locked room detective novel, and carried it to a total extreme, the actors in this story are in a physical situation that allows absolutely no escape, so near to the sun that they can’t even go outside their space station for more than about 90 minutes without risking death from radiation, nor can they simply leap into a space shuttle and return to the relative safety of the main base on Mercury… They are really stuck and it is in this claustrophobic atmosphere that the tale unfolds to its – to me at least – unexpected finale.
Timothy has created a cast of characters who are convincing as individual people, each with their strengths and weaknesses, and a main character, the detective, who is a somewhat Russian figure, wracked with guilt over an event that he sees as his fault, and his inability to really form any relationships with people and who struggles with what appears to be a completely intractable crime, without any sort of leads.
By the way, the world that the writer has created, well the universe is perhaps a better word, is a seriously nasty one, in which the military rule everything via a non-elected elite council of 20 men….. A very unpleasant and dangerous society in which any and all dissent is ruthlessly suppressed. And it is against the background of this horrid society that this story plays out.
In passing I would be intrigued to read any books that he might yet write that expanded on this society he has created, seems to me that it could act as the background to quite a lot of books to come.
Here be no Aliens:
I am happy to also report that the writer has avoided the easy route of using aliens as his evil ones, that would have been a weak solution. In keeping all the characters firmly human he makes the whole thing more realistic and scary… and manages also to maintain the tension all the way through. Unlike classic examples of this type of story where the danger is an alien running amok in a space ship (Alien is a good example of such a story), here we are kept in suspense all the way to the very end of the book about the true nature of the danger and its perpetrators… A well thought through approach I feel.
And paradoxically, we are left with the thought that perhaps they are not as evil as we thought… There is a nice and completely unexpected touch at the very end of the book, which I for one really liked.
So if you enjoy reading detective novels, thrillers and Sci-Fi, then this is definitely a book for you to buy and enjoy. The author warns us that there is a degree of bad language and violence in this book, but to be honest, I found much less of that than in an average thriller, so perhaps not the book for your maiden aunt, but otherwise no problem.
Where to get it:
Link to author’s website:http://www.timothysjohnston.com/
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