Titanium Noir – Better As An Alloy

Folks, I bamboozled myself. A book sauntered its way into my smoke filled office, almost spilling out of its dress. There was a look in its eyes, one of deep need, tinted with a mysterious vengeance. I poured the book and myself a drink. We both needed one. Theirs was for the hard days of the past. Myself, well, I figured hard days lay ahead, so I might as well get started. And that’s when the book laid it all out for me, the case itself. It was hard to pass up, they dressed it up nicely. A lower page count, a page turning narrative inked in compelling prose… how could I refuse? And that’s when I was finally able to peek at the file, Titanium Noir, by Nick Harkaway.

Cal Sounder is a man with a very specific job. Some might say he’s a cop, others may just refer to him as a detective, but really he’s more a medical private eye. He’s only hired whenever a Titan might be involved in a case. A chemically enhanced elite member of society who has forgotten mortality, and grown to eight feet tall, with the mass to match. Only those worthy of the serum (read: friends with the inventor/rights holder), and physical/mental fortitude to survive the process have access. So it’s definitely not good that one of them has been found dead, and Sounder has to mind his footsteps as he rummages through the evidence, lest he trip under the unimpeded footsteps of the very Titans he’s trying to exonerate.

Before I start diving into the nitty gritty, I want to state that my experience with hard-boiled detective novels is very slim. It’s not a dame I tend to dance with, as its reputation precedes it. I find myself flipping my sign to the closed side any time their shadow darkens my frost tinted glass door. That’s not to say a few convinced me to take on their case with a few sob stories here and there. Everyone familiar with this sorry lot has heard The Maltese Falcon’s story, and I perchance have let a few of the more fantastical cats into my office and poured them a stiff drink. So you see, if you’re looking for a detailed rap sheet on Titanium Noir, hoping I’d give the all clear on its intentions, well, I’m just not that well equipped.

But, I believe that since I did follow through, I should warn you that darkness lay ahead, and its shadow swallows what little light chooses to grace this godforsaken city. Sounder is a straight shooter, except for when he isn’t. The man is a real pain in the ass, the kind that just decides to do his job without really digging too deep. Sure he acts all suspicious, and will even lay out the case to you with skepticism, but it always feels like a cynical ploy. I call that hedging one’s bets, and let me tell you, the house always wins. He skulks around, playing the fence as if he hasn’t already made a choice, his gruffness acts a shield for inquiry. What should be a self deprecating honesty comes off as an excuse. Which would really make him interesting if I truly gave a damn about his plight, which he made damn sure I didn’t.

Now Harkaway, that’s Sounder’s biographer mind you, he has a knack for the literary. It adds a bit of a bitter, atmospheric panache to Sounder’s admittedly boring thoughts. It’s not what one might call artful, but it certainly hooked me. Without Harkaway’s colorful rendition of Sounder’s case, the story would be a bit dull. A man amongst the elite is killed, a special investigator is brought in, the case ruffles some feathers and brings to light some old grudges and history amongst the city’s titanic elite. There are dust ups, and they’re all given a flair, but after a while it just starts to wear down on you, or at least it did me. It just leaned a little too casually on the hard stuff for my delicate tastes. The classic down on his luck, fists up against the world, private eye lingo and stream of consciousness just became a chore. Now, any good cop would avoid the paperwork, but Harkaway really added to the case files this time and I don’t get paid overtime. It felt a tad bit stretched, even at its paltry 256 pages.

The saving grace could have been some of more interesting nooks and crannies hidden among the play of shadows. The danger of ossified power structures, controlled by larger than life players who are as close to immortal as one could get. The Titans’ vulnerability hiding within the intimate relations amongst the very people playing at Gods. Sounder could have mapped out the contours of the world, like an ant finding a picnic and making its getaway to bring on the might of the colony. But instead, the man just stayed in his lane and added a few details to the world. But again, he was quite guarded as if the Titans themselves could read his own thoughts.  Sure he made some pretty strategic moves that helped solve the case, but the case never truly revealed anything. Power will do what it can to remain in power, and we must recognize that, maybe even respect it. Bingo. Didn’t need an overloaded case to make that claim.

Now I’ve played coy, but really I did not have a good time with this book, even though I found myself entertained at its clever employment of drudgery. Sure there is some tragedy involved, but there are also just some plain old ugly holdovers from the genre. The sexism isn’t rampant, but pulls the spotlight to itself in weird ways. It seems to try to add a little critique to the genre, while nearly doubling down on some of its misogynistic tendencies. It’s not egregious, but it’s one of those things that once you see it, it’s hard to trick the light into hiding it again. The red herrings are few, and the story tries to keep itself moving by providing weird unrelated action sequences. These sequences serve two main purposes, to build out the world, and to make Sounder look cool, collected and worthy of survival within this hellscape. They aren’t particularly eye opening, and only made me less sympathetic to Sounder’s journey. Ultimately, it just felt like wasted potential from someone who has some pretty good writing chops and strong genre sensibilities. You might find some joy in reading the book as a character piece of the man named Cal Sounder, but even still, you might be able to guess where it’s headed. For me, it’s time to hang my hat and take a much needed vacation, maybe quit the drink for a little while.

Rating: Titanium Noir – 4.0/10

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An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.

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