In Gil’s All Fright Diner, he spoofed the horror genre, in In the Company of Ogres and A Nameless Witch, he spoofed the fantasy genre, and now, with The Automatic Detective, A. Lee Martinez pulls a double-spoof, of the science fiction and hard-boiled crime dramas. Though, admittedly, it’s hard to call this a “spoof,” except for the mash-up of the two genres, since it’s not as wacky-funny as the author’s previous works. It makes me wonder what he’s going to do next.
Now, don’t take that the wrong way. This is a great book that’s fun to read, is nicely plotted, and will pull you along through the action. It just lacks some of the Looney Tunes-style humor that the other books have. There were a handful of moments that got me to laugh out loud, but those could probably be found in any hard-boiled crime drama. It’s just part and parcel of the genre. When I reviewed A Nameless Witch, I commented that there was a lot of wackiness (i.e., a blood-crazed, demonic duck), but it was tempered with a serious undertone (i.e., those that the duck killed stayed dead). With The Automatic Detective, you’re never quite lulled into a sense that the stuff going on was too wacky and crazy to be real; here, it was plain that the story was going to stay serious.
In the novel, Mack Megaton is a lumbering, nearly-indestructable, deadly robot. He was designed to destroy things, but something clicked in him when he powered up. That something is a glimmer of free-will and sentience. He foregoes the purpose for which he was created, and takes to driving a cab while waiting for his citizenship status to take effect. If that happens, he can be treated as a lifeform, and not as a robot. Until then, he can be deactivated and scrapped if something terrible happens. When his neighbors are kidnapped and he takes it upon himself to find them, he risks that citizenship by following a directive that is illogical, dangerous, and unlikely to succeed. In short, his directive pretty much proves that he’s alive, but he has to survive it all in order to make it that far.
The author seems to get better with every book he writes. Even if readers aren’t into the different genres he spoofs, they still seem to enjoy them. Shoot, the person who turned me on to his first novel was a children’s librarian who usually read crime thrillers, so without her, there’s a good chance that I would have missed out on him. As I was finishing the book last night, I realized that the book has this effortless feel to it, so much so that it’s easy to fall completely into the story. The narrative isn’t overwrought. The setting isn’t so detailed that it detracts from the flow of the plot, yet it’s detailed enough to give you a clear sense of where the book takes place. The dialog is crisp and realistic. The characters all ring true, and it’s very easy to root for the good guys and hate on the bad guys. I hope this guy goes on to tremendous success, because he really deserves it.
So, give him a shot. You just might be surprised.