Chris Brookmyre: 'The more we immerse ourselves in advanced technology, the more we crave visceral human experience'
- Rowena McIntosh
- 1 November 2017
Scottish crime-writing giant Chris Brookmyre discusses his new novel, Places in the Darkness, where a murder takes place in space
Places in the Darkness takes crime fiction into space. Eighty years after the Ciudad De Cielo ('the city in the sky') was established, it experiences its first homicide. Jaded former LAPD detective Nikki Freeman is tasked with finding the killer, under the watchful eye of uptight government worker Dr Alice Blake, who has just arrived from Earth. Chris Brookmyre's latest is gripping, exploring the frightening possibilities of advanced technology and set among the CdC's seedy underbelly of base human desires and police corruption, as its author explains.
Why did you decide to set a crime novel in space?
I was intrigued by the idea of somewhere that is advanced and aspirational and yet a place permanently on the edge of existence. People are at all times only metres or even centimetres away from instant death in the cold vacuum of space. I also liked the idea of being able to create my own city with its own history, its own subcultures and its own rules. Nobody can tell me my police procedural details are wrong if I have created my own police force.
Places in the Darkness has a very vivid opener. Did you already have that image in mind when you started the book?
It's a trope of crime fiction to begin with the discovery of a body, so when I came to write this, I thought about how the possibilities of a space station might allow me to twist that convention. I thought about the implications of a crime scene in microgravity – where the body would not just be lying in place – then realised I could take it much further. Also, in writing about hyper-advanced technology and an aspirational civilisation, I wanted to show the ways in which everything can still be reduced to human desires and human weakness, literally broken down to flesh and blood.
What books or films inspired you in creating this futuristic world on the Ciudad de Cielo?
I actually set out to create a space station environment that was deliberately unlike any I was familiar with from films. I had read a lot about early space exploration, including several memoirs by astronauts, which made me think about the logistical and practical considerations of life in space. So many problems arose from the absence of gravity, which is why CdC comprises two giant wheels creating artificial gravity environments. However, if there is one movie that I have a debt to for this book, it is The Big Easy. As the book is about police corruption, the relationship between Dennis Quaid's Remy McSwain and Ellen Barkin's Anne Osborn was the inspiration for the relationship in Places in the Darkness between Nikki "Fixx" Freeman and Alice Blake.
There are no Scottish characters in this book, but there is a lot of Scotch whisky. Why was that so important to the story?
It is a book about the Caveman Principle: how the more we immerse ourselves in a world of advanced technology (and in this case the further we get from Earth), the more we crave visceral human experience. Hence CdC has a massive underground economy of sex, nightclubs, fight clubs and bootleg booze, especially single malts. The likes of Glenfarclas and Glenfiddich are particularly prized on CdC because they have both a history and a geography that connect them to the Earth.