By: Chris McKinney
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Publisher: Soho Crime
Series: Water City #1
Midnight, Water City is the first book in a new series by Hawaiian author Chris McKinney. Neo-noir elements are cleverly combined with science fiction, painting a futuristic world you can’t help but be drawn to.
Our unnamed protagonist is called to the underwater penthouse suite of the famed scientist Akira Kimura only to find his longtime friend dead and dismembered in her hibernation pod. As one of the only people with such close contact with the reclusive, world-famous savior of Earth, he quickly finds himself a suspect. Yet clearing his name isn’t top priority, not when there are so many secrets Akira had been hiding from him and questions desperate to be answered.
Many themes run through this novel, some of which are quintessentially noir: a gritty world, a protagonist who’s more dangerous than may meet the eye. More importantly, and perhaps most interestingly, are themes of disability and aging that permeate the novel. The protagonist isn’t young, even by the standards of the year 2142. At eighty years old, he’s had plenty of surgeries to replace failing organs and heal the effects of both a hard life and the simple passage of time. Even so, he still feels the weight of those long years, much unlike the deceased Akira Kimura who had seemed determined to live forever, doing everything she could to stave off the passage of time has had wrought. How long he’s going to continue to replace the same organs is a question often on his mind, one compounded by the fact that he and his fourth wife have a young daughter who needs her father.
That isn’t the only discussion on health and the body either. The protagonist is colorblind, something that stands out amid a world quickly barreling towards cyberpunk, a place where superfluous but fun body enhancements like LEDs and tails isn’t completely unseen among the youth. On top of that, he has synesthesia—a condition where senses get tangled, allowing people to smell color, for example, or taste music. This is the only time he can see colors such as red and green, and the color red always draws him to murder. It’s something to which he credits his many successes as a detective to. This isn’t simply an interesting quirk of the main character, either. Synesthesia and colorblindness are part of who this character is at his core. It’s something that he feels makes him him, something that others try to “cure” him of and something he doesn’t want nor need to be “cured” of.
Yet, all of these successes come with a grain of salt. For decades, the protagonist protected Akira, acting as a bodyguard but also her hitman, making sure that people who would harm her or her work in protecting Earth from the incoming asteroid that threatened to destroy the world. However, the advent of Akira’s death brings to life sides of her that the protagonist was blind to, his admiration combining with her manipulative tendencies into the perfect storm. Suddenly, this isn’t simply a whodunit. Akira Kimura’s legacy, her contributions to humankind, her acts a savior of Earth, and if there was ever an asteroid capable of destroying the planet at all are brought into question. Her entire legacy may be at risk, and with her past saving of the world having had such an effect on people’s individual lives, science, and politics at large, any of these rumors getting out may lead to total social and political collapse.
This neo-noir, cyberpunk-like world is perfectly realized, with all the colors and tech of the cyberpunk with the dark grit of noir. Climate change and war has pushed humanity to explore new avenues, and vast cities lay underwater on the seafloor. Yet not everyone can live in safety beneath the sea. Lower classes are pushed to islands and inhabitable shorelines. Akira Kimura may have saved the world, but the world build on the foundations of her research isn’t anywhere close to perfect.
The many themes and questions are interwoven beautifully as the narrator tries to find who killed Akira Kimura and who the woman he thought was a close friend truly was. This is a locked-room mystery in a neo-noir setting fans of traditional noir mysteries and fans of science fiction will both be sure love. Despite exploring many themes, the novel never loses focus, never deviates from the biggest picture—who really was Akira Kimura and how was she killed miles under the sea in a room almost no one on Earth had a key to?