Justin Richards has done it again, in more ways than one. Not only has he crafted a novel that holds your attention and provides incentive to read further, but he's also revisited the 'painting as a plot device' that worked so well in Option Lock.
In Demontage, it's paintings - plural. Toulour Martinique is the futuristic equivalent of the French Renaissance painters, adored following his death. A death which arrived violently and in suspicious circumstances, just after he finished his most famous work.
On Vega station, Martinique's former lover and marketing manager are setting up an exhibition, while the newly endorsed president of Battrul plans to visit the station, a bastion of togetherness in neutral territory between the empires of Battrul and Canvine (wolf biped.) Both sides hold an uneasy peace following a fifty year war. Sympathisers, fundamentalists and stubborn military types are still causing governmental rifts and unrest.
The Doctor, Sam and Fitz are thrust into this melting pot of political disruption, and are inevitably drawn into the dangerous and shady world of the Vega station. We've got forgeries, spying, assassination, murders, adultery, cross-species love and even cheating at cards -. Fitz finds himself running for his life from various characters and getting interrogated, Sam is kidnapped and held captive within a painting, and the Doctor's just as clueless as we are as to what's going on.
There's not much in the way of finding out what the three leads are thinking and feeling, but thankfully we've got a well rounded supporting cast of intriguing characters. Rappare and Forster, the dodgy antiques dealers, Harris Stabilo, the seemingly timid casino owner, Hazard Solarin, the assassin who rolls dice and consults a random number generator to determine his course of action, Bigdog Caruso, a known Canvine spy, a good guy with a bad side and a love for casino money leacher Vermilion Kenyan. She's trying to save up enough cash to get off Vega station, helped by a bit of drug dealing.
I even like the character names - there's probably nobody alive today called Vermilion, but you could imagine it being quite a good name for a girl. Hazard is perhaps a little corny, but since that's only his nickname, I don't have a problem with it.
Everyone's got a decent hook in their character breakdown, and this is a novel in which no matter who you're reading about, you want to carry on reading to find out what happens to them. There are very few faceless soldiers, as they only appear briefly, and every main character is central to the plot.
Like the works of Martinique, Demontage is built up, layer upon layer. Almost everything that happens has an importance as far as the plot is concerned, and several revelations depend on the actions of characters and indeed their somewhat mysterious motives.
It just goes to show that when Justin Richards is on form, he can turn out some very good novels. It's disappointing that his latest, The Clockwise Man, is so simple, because he does complicated extremely well. Can we have more like Demontage please?
Review by Tom Hey