Ross Harrison's Acts of Violence is a fast-paced, entertaining mystery packed with action and grit. The story takes place on a backwater planet in the NEXUS universe - Harrison's galaxy-spanning space opera series - but other than a few references to fictional technology (holograms, flying transports, and the like), the book reads more like a thriller or nouveau noir than sci-fi.
The narrator is Jack Mason, a police academy dropout turned wannabe private detective. He tells the story in sharp-edged sentences ideal for the setting: a crime-ridden, mob-run town full of violence and debauchery. A caustic wit and blunt demeanor make him an entertaining character to read, both because of his sarcastic quips and quick descriptions of action scenes. The plot follows his efforts to clear his name of the murder of a bargirl whose name he didn't even know when he brought her home for a one-night stand. But as he delves further into the shady operation she worked for, he learns that it's much more than it seems. Driven to find the truth, he winds up tangled up in a web of deceit and power struggles.
I really enjoyed reading this book - even missed my train once because I was reading it at the platform and didn't look up in time. Harrison certainly knows how to plot a novel. The suspense and action were riveting, and the twists at the end gave the book a powerful finish. It's not very long, and with its pounding pace and chapter hooks, I could easily have read this book in one afternoon if I hadn't been saving it for my commutes.
Acts of Violence explores the dark underworld of Harem, the aptly named sin city it takes place in, and doesn't pull its punches. It's not horror, and the violence isn't particularly graphic, but there is a lot of it. Things get real rough for poor Jack.
As far as character goes, Jack is somewhat of an enigma. The story is told in past tense, and he often seems emotionally detached from the situation, but every so often, the anger gets the better of him. He's also an unreliable narrator, denying the reader information about his past, and that adds an extra level of interest.
All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an entertaining thrill-ride of a read, which was just what I was looking for when I cracked its spine. Well, its digital spine.
(reviewed the day of purchase)