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WesternSFA
Marked
A Mindspace Investigations Novel
by Alex Hughes
Roc, $7.99, 337pp
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Adam Ward used to be a Guild member and a cop, but an addiction to drugs got him kicked out of the Guild and off the force. He’s been trying to earn his PD badge back on for a while now, staying sober and doing piecemeal work as a freelance telepathic investigator and interrogator for the Atlanta , Georgia PD. The problem is threefold: he wants to do the sort of work that protects people; but he cares way too much for his own good (hence that recourse to drugs); and he hates working with or for officious, malignant jerks. That last is the reason why the Guild, the quasi-political organization that recruits, trains, regulates, and controls all telepaths, is less than fond of the renegade Adam.

Adam’s main problem right now is that Cherabino, the cop who gets assigned to work with him on most of the murder cases he’s called to investigate, is really, really pissed with him, because he inadvertently forged a psionic link between the two of them during a major surge in his brain chemistry when lives were at stake. (As described in Sharp.) Cherabino does not like anyone having access to her thoughts or feelings – arguably not even herself. But murder and duty trump personal reservations, and when a key Guild member is found murdered, Adam is paradoxically the only investigator qualified to do what needs to be done, precisely because he is an Outsider.

But telepaths know all the tricks to evade detection by other telepaths, not to mention how to lay deadly mind traps, so finding the murderer will be Ward’s toughest case ever.

I noticed that the Alex Hughes was evasive about gender in the About the Author section. Both the author’s and the dedicant’s name are gender neutral/ambiguous, and the name Cherabino no longer seems merely a neat tribute to Mozart. In the opera The Marriage of Figaro, Cherabino is a trouser role: a male character performed by a soprano. These are not just roles that were written with castrati in mind and reassigned to women when castrati became scarce; the best trouser roles incorporate gender dissonance into the drama, and Cherabino is one of the best examples of this (along with Niklaus in The Tales of Hoffman). Casting a woman in the part was crucial to downplay the sexual tension of the boudoir scene from dangerous to amusing, even titillating. It was subversive writing, but playfully so. And so it follows that the ‘standard’ male and female roles and relationships in this story may be less standard than they seem; read it as you will.

I was already intrigued by the protagonist’s name, because ‘Adam Ward’ translates to ‘first man and guardian’, which is neat in and of itself; but it might also be a subtle tribute to Batman, since it combines the names of the actors Adam West and Burt Ward from the vintage TV show. Or maybe it’s just coincidence.

This sequel to Clean and Sharp is the best of the series so far. It can be read as a standalone, but you’ll appreciate it more if you read the books in order. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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