Travel Documents 26: The Immorality Clause


The Immorality Clause (Easytown Novels, Book 1)

Kristi Helvig
Genre: Dystopian, climate change, neo-noir

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The Dust Cover Copy

Easytown’s robotic pleasure clubs are a serial killer’s playground.

The futuristic slum in eastern New Orleans is a violent place where any vice can be satisfied – for a price. As long as the taxes are paid and tourists continue to flock to the city, businesses are allowed to operate as they see fit. But a string of violent murders threatens to upset the delicate balance between pleasure and safety.

As homicide detective Zach Forrest tries to unravel the mystery and prevent the next murder, he embarks on a mind-bending investigation that will change his perception of reality forever.

The Deets

The Scene

Worldbuilding

The rain is coming down on the good ol’ New Orleans, and this rain is cold. It’s the kind of night for a long duster and a fedora, a night where the neon reflects from the puddles. And one tired cop walks the streets alone, on his way to a murder scene.

That poor schmuck of a homicide detective is Zach Forrest, and he’s everything you want in an neo-noir cop. Bluff, kind of sweet, kind of clueless around the ladies. Erring on the side of gallant unless you throw a punch. And tired. So. Very. Damn. Tired.

This is one of the few neo-noir cyberpunks that feels just as real as everyday life. The tech is futuristic, but it’s neither terrifyingly and malignantly powerful nor is it humanity’s salvation. It still fritzes and glitches. AI has gotten just smart enough to talk to us, but not smart enough to realize that saying ‘he’s unavailable due to being in jail on suspicion of murder’ is really unhelpful. Your toilet can analyze your urine and hearing its health advice every morning is mandated by the city and the insurance companies, but people ignore it all the same. The cars are all self-driving, but the insurance company still keeps beaters to hand to fob off on high-risk cops who managed to sink their last model in a fricking lake (!!) People are still people. New tech lets them be people in new and interesting ways. But their human needs and misdeeds haven’t changed. That touch of tawdry grit made this world wonderfully rough around the edges and as endearing as your favorite, worn-out sweatshirt. You love it partly because it’s been through the mill. It’s familiar. It’s yours. And so is this world.

The Crowd

Characterization

The setup for this story is classic neo-noir, but it’s the characters that sell it. Zach is a lovable, flatfooted sweetheart . The reader for his character in the audiobook version sells the story perfectly: when he reads a character rolling out of bed, he absolutely sells the exhaustion and discombobulation. The performance made a well written story an absolute treat to listen to.
Zach’s friends and enemies are all well-rounded and engaging, all the way from his oily sometimes-informant who goes by a name that includes Voodoo–never a good sign–to the other cops who give him shit down at the station and Andi, his adorkably clueless and sweetly competent AI who may just have a computer-crush on him. She’s a great replacement for the peppy secretary of old-world noir.

Zach’s friends give a strong sense of reality to his life, grounding it in routine and webs of interpersonal relations that are totally believable. And the people he deals with at work are humans with completely human motivations, in all their shop-soiled glory.

The Lingo

Writing Style

Witty, wry and wearily affable, Zach’s voice allows Parker to set the tone and get in plenty of commentary that keeps readers engaged and smiling. It’s a clever, dryly playful style that works beautifully. You feel like you’re sitting with that one globe trotting uncle hearing a good yarn, probably with your mom leaning disapprovingly through the door to give her big brother A Look because he’s being A Bad Influence. The style hits right in the nostalgic sweet spot.

The Moves

Plot

This plot is classic noir: strands of event that slowly pull taut, slow-burn peril, tragicomedy, a heroic denoumount for high stakes, and a hero who still feels a bit miffed at the end but sticks around anyway. I won’t give any surprises away, but I’ll say this: Parker perfectly blended the noir plot style with his futuristic world to create a plot that punches above its weight.

Overall Rating

A great neo-noir treat that has me eager for the next installment. This is one to pick up, folks.