Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone Novella
Publisher: Subterranean Press (May 2017)
Length: 136 pages
My Rating: 4 stars
John Scalzi has really struck gold with his new urban fantasy novella, The Dispatcher. This tale a fast-paced, easily digested murder mystery, which is tightly constructed, amazingly simple yet immensely thought provoking. Simply put, this is one damn good read.
Set in the near future, the world is basically identical to our own – except it is impossible to kill anyone. Yes, you can die by natural causes, accident, or suicide, but no one can kill you. Murder is practically impossible, as in you have better odds of being hit by lightning and dying than being killed by a murderer. And no one knows how or why this change in the natural order has taken place. Some believe it is a sign from God. Others point to more fantastical cause, while the rational develop scientific explanations. But what everyone agrees on is that the whole world is now transforming!
Think on the consequences of this single change to death. How do people now fight wars? Is crime of a deadly nature even a threat anymore? How does the death penalty work? Does God really exist? And, more importantly to the governments of the world, how can this phenomenon be controlled?
Well, the answer to the last question are the Dispatchers. These duly trained and licensed government killers monitored, watched, and assigned job duties. Our main character, Tony Valdez, one of them, and he generally works hospitals, always on hand if an ER patient is about to die or an operation goes horribly wrong. In those situations, Tony will put a payload (bullet) in the patients brain so that they do not die a natural death but are murdered; this resulting in their reappearance at their home without any injuries; their life saved. Tony himself feeling no guilt at the “murder”he has committed since no one dies but come back to life. In a strange way, Tony feels he is almost acting as people’s guardian angel.
But there is always a dark side to everything. Even this amazing and seemingly benevolent banishment of murder perverted into something dark and twisted. Some dispatchers selling their services to crime lords, fight clubs, and even less savory enterprises. Others working illegal, unmonitored jobs as the dispatcher for people in dangerous jobs who might prefer to be murdered rather than be disfigured or have life changing injuries.
But Tony isn’t much impacted by the shady side of things until one day when a detective shows up. This investigator announces that one of Tony’s old friends has disappeared, and she believes that he might have been caught up in the dark underbelly of the dispatchers,. And, quickly, tony finds himself coerced into a thrilling murder mystery, where even he might not be completely safe!
Without a doubt, John Scalzi is at his writing best with this novella. The pacing is near perfect, sped along by the constant dialogue and thrilling reveals, even as the usual Scalzi humor adds a bit of levity to the serious tone. And the concept is extraordinary, complex, and develops into a believable reality, where the characters discuss the miraculous in terms of societal, philosophical and religious impact without ever coming across as preachy. This mixture of urban fantasy, scifi, and crime noire elements really a delectable brew.
To sum up, I highly recommend this novella to everyone. It is great fun to read and has loads of potential to become a full blown series for Scalzi. Plus, at 136 pages, The Dispatcher is the perfect length for a read during lunch or during a long commute home. Give it a try. I think you will enjoy it.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.