There have been divided cities in the past. Even in our lifetimes, there was Berlin and Jerusalem. Cities have quarterings: rich and poor, indigenous and immigrant. But no two cities have been divided as Beszel and Ul Qoma.
Vaguely placed somewhere in our modern Balkans region, the two cites exist in the same geographic location but slightly different phases. Patches of each city are visible from the other. Some places are crosshatched, meaning you actually interact with pedestrians and traffic of the other.
But they are as separated as if there was a wall between them. The Breach (or, strike the ‘the’: Breach) (the singular/plural confusion keeps the reader offbalanced) are an agency or force that reacts to any illegal crossings. You throw a rock across the border and Breach might carry you off. To prevent this, the children of both cities are taught to “unsee” the other city, to ignore it with firm certainty. And so they might catch sight of it (peripherally) but they will never react or acknowledge the other. In fact, the only way to travel between the cities is under the heavily guarded connection between the two, a Checkpoint Charlie of officialdom. Otherwise, all calls between them are “international” and all travel restricted.
Which is why Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad is called in to investigate a murder of a young woman. Such things happen every day in our cities, but the alarming thing here is the nature of her death – evidence points to the fact that she was murdered in Ul Qoma yet dumped in Baszel. Why? How? And where was Breach?
Mieville is a favorite author of mine and he didn’t disappoint with this story. As always, his ideas are new and striking and different, not just some reheated effort. It reminded me a lot of the movie Dark City, which I loved for the same quirkiness I found here – a shifting reality, a sense of noir, the corruption of power and the hidden mystery of it all. If I had one complaint, it might be that I was more following Borlu’s efforts than competing with him – he seemed to be operating on instincts rather than physical clues (which would have given me a chance to figure it out, maybe). But then again, I’m not usually a reader of mystery – I might just be slow.
Overall, I really loved this effort – its writing is topnotch (as mentioned in my last Dog Ear). The setting is new and different. Worth every penny. Get it!