Saturday, 25 April 2015

Come's the Executioner('s Daughter)

Welcome to our latest reviewer, Dan Adams who has taken the reins for Greg Cox's latest, Foul Deeds Will Rise. As always, be ready for potential SPOILERS!

Some years ago when I took some old Star Trek books to my local charity shop, the sweet looking elderly lady quickly, (and gleefully) asked “any murders in ‘em?” Thinking she was hoping I had handed in a pile of contemporary murder mysteries I said “no, they're all Star Trek”. To which could almost hear her disappointment. 

But on reflection, the “whodunit” genre has been part of the Star Trek Universe since the very beginning. The beauty of a whodunit in a science fiction setting is that you have to keep your mind open to more than just the who’s, the how’s are equally rich and diverse. 

An early example of this genre of Star Trek is the episode the Conscience of the King. In the episode, Kirk is trying confirm that the actor Anton Karidian is the mass murdering Kodos the Executioner. As the evidence gets stronger that this is indeed the man who murdered thousands, the body count in the present day begins to rise. The victims? Those that could identify Kodos.

It turns out that, while Karidian was indeed Kodos the executioner, he had completely repressed his past. His daughter, who Kirk manipulated to get closer to her father, was the killer and killed her father accidentally in the episode’s climactic scenes, before suffering a complete mental breakdown. 

Lenore returns in Foul Deeds Will Rise, which takes place between the fifth and sixth Star Trek movies, in keeping with The Original Series' notion that mental illness can be cured as quickly as most illnesses in the Star Trek universe, Lennore is now rehabilitated, volunteering relief efforts on the planet Oyolu, who have just signed a delicate cease fire with the neighbouring Parvak. 

As part of the peace negotiations, The Enterprise–A is providing neutral ground for representatives from both worlds to resolve their differences. Meanwhile, Spock and Scotty are acting as Federation weapons inspectors, making sure that deadly protomatter warheads are being disposed of. 

By night, the group of relief workers that Lenore belongs to performs drama. It is at once such performance that Kirk lays eyes on Lenore for the first time in decades. She returns to the ship, at Kirk’s invitation and soon the body count starts to rise. Is Lenore still a deadly murderer? Or is she in the wrong place at the wrong time? 

What Cox does particularly well in this novel is revisit some familiar Trek Tropes. As mentioned above, in The Original Series, criminality was largely seen as a form of mental illness, easily treated by the technology of the day. Without going into too much detail, we learn that Lenore has regular doses of zetaproprion, the same drug that was used to completely cure the insane Garth of Izar in the episode Whom Gods Destroy. Considering the madmen we’ve seen in Star Trek before and since the idea that madness could be cured seemed a bit convenient. However, the characterisation of Lenore here helps to explore some of those themes. Is her madness gone? Or is it simply contained? 

Another familiar “Trek Trope” is that of the consequences coming back to haunt Kirk. In order to get closer to her father, the dashing Captain Kirk seen in The Original Series played with the emotions of Lenore Karidian, then a 19 year old girl. While Karidian was no angel, Kirk believably haunted by the actions he took in the early part of that episode, which fits in with the Kirk we see in The Wrath of Khan who faces the consequences of dumping the titular baddie on Ceti Alpha V. 

One of the welcome things about this book, is the pick up and readability of it. These days a lot of books set in the later Star Trek canon require awareness of what has happened in previous books across the range. With this book, it harkens back to the old days. The Pavakans and Oyolo, seen here for the first time are a throwback to Star Trek books of old. Their motivations are sensible, and are familiar both in terms of what we have seen in other fiction, and in terms of the real world. The Pavans with their faces adorned with thin fur, and Oloyu with their yellow skin and horns would be prohibitive on a The Original Series or The Next Generation budget, but work in the context of this novel. Finally, although Kevin Riley’s past in the novels as the former Admiral Kirk’s attaché is referenced, it’s a nice Easter egg that doesn’t take away from the experience of those who haven’t read the trucks of the motion picture era novels. 

The races themselves are interesting. The Pavakans are militaristic and had occupied great chunks of Oyolo territory. The Oyolo had been waging a savage war of attrition against them. Heroes on the Pavakan side are seen as butchers and murders on the Oyolo side. Meanwhile Oyolo figures revered as freedom fighters and martyrs are seen as savages and insurgents on the Pavakan side. Huge swathes of the Oyolo home world are destroyed, leading to a massive humanitarian crisis. 

With the presence of weapons inspectors and hostage taking, it’s hard not to draw parallels to today’s world, right down to the fact that Osama Bin Laden is mentioned in the book. I’ll avoid spoilers, but the murders that may or may not have been committed by Lenore, have ongoing implications for the peace process, as do Spock and Scott’s ongoing weapons inspection work. 

The biggest flaw I found in the novel is that the last few moments before the resolution to the threat there are a few things that would be impossible on a starship, particularly in the ease in which a shuttle can be stolen by a certain type of thief without triggering alarms. However, the final scenes keep you guessing as to the resolution, and you can easily imagine it as a set piece taking place in a full scale Star Trek motion picture. 

Like any good whodunnit, there are clues scattered throughout the story. Some are red herrings (my pet theory was proven wrong) others prove to be useful (keep an eye on Chekov) and there is a big clue as to the method used. 

Overall, I would call this a great book that expertly weaves a good whodunnit with some exciting action scenes.

Have you read Foul Deeds Will Rise? Did it fit your expectations for a movie-era novel and if not, what was missing? Let us know in the comments below!

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