Classic Whodunnit at Light Speed (review: Blood Orbit)

9 Jul

From Arthur Conan Doyle’s pipe-smoking Sherlock Holmes to USA’s “Obsessive Compulsive Detective” Adrian Monk, when it comes to the mystery genre, there has to be a gimmick.

In Blood Orbit, John Derderian’s angle is pretty original.

Ted Warner is the copilot of the FT&N-1, flagship (and only ship) of Fred, Ted and Ned’s Hauling, Independent Cargo Carriers. Nothing out of the ordinary here—I’m starting to think that (if today’s science fiction augurs have their way) haulers, carriers, and cargo transporters are the space age working class.

In Ted’s universe, indie haulers are the lynchpin of the interplanetary economy—considering that it’s a solar system where “small-scale warfare was a regular part of commerce.” When Ted wakes up on the morning of chapter one, GM and Fujiwara are battling.

Lovely.

Here’s where Ted, Fred, and Ned (the co-partners’ female dog, naturally) come in: with corporations unable to trust each other as far as they can jettison each other, outfitting commercial carriers turns into building space tanks and warships. Putting transportation in the hands of small businessmen like FT&N proves more cost effective.

If all this sounds a bit dry, that’s because it is. Ted Warner’s life isn’t the most eventful (it’s seven months straight in space, seriously). So uneventful, in fact, that he’s looking forward to grabbing a drink with some brunette from Traffic Control—who he hasn’t seen in three years, on his last trip to Ganymede. Can we blame him? There is, after all, no one within a million miles—literally.

Chapter one, however, takes the reader to the morning the monotony breaks.

Ted wakes up and floats off his bunk in zero gravity to find a gory ship: his partner Fred bludgeoned to death and dragged around the ship, leaving a trail of floating globules of B-positive hanging “like a grotesque Christmas ornament.” Needless to say, crime scenes look different in space.

Not to mention Ned’s the only other person on the ship—or rather, remember, within a million miles. And that’s just the first chapter.

Blood Orbit is just over 1,100 locations on the Kindle—I’ve lost the ability to covert to physical pages, but considering that the average novel ranges from 8,000 to 10,000 locations, Derderian’s one-man mystery is more novella than novel. It follows Ted’s last 48 hours en route to Ganymede, during which he tries to solve the murder of his friend (and hey, not even he knows if it was the work of a brutally violent split-personality) and, without giving anything away, another mystery that crops up along the way.

It’s surprising that a story in which nothing actually happens can prove so engaging. Blood Orbit has a primary cast that can be counted on one hand (including the dog and the dead man), but that’s just an example of Derderian’s tight plotting—note to the reader: take nothing for granted… nothing.

Like any good mystery story, everything’s a clue; and even a Monk viewer who could always spot the perp before the final reveal couldn’t figure this one out. Heck, there was a block of time I was convinced it was Ned.

Whether it was or wasn’t, I’m not saying—and neither is Fred.

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