The City and the City
by China Mieville
Format: Hardcover, 312 pages
Publisher: Del Ray
Cover Design: FWISRelease Date: May 26, 2009
It’s difficult to give a decent summary and feeling for The City and the City without going too much into spoilers. When a young woman is murdered in the city of Beszel, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu. However the investigation quickly reveals that nothing is at seems, for though the victim's body was found in decaying Beszel, she was murdered in the sister city of vibrant Ul Qoma. This changes everything for Ul Qoma is not just a neighboring city; it is practically another country, one that shares the same topographical location as the city of Beszel.
Longtime residents grow up with the two cities built side by side and on top of each other. They become practiced at "unseeing" the other side for to inadvertently cross the border, is to invoke "Breach", an entity which polices and separates the two cities. Borlu partners up with Ul Qoma dectective, Qussim Dhatt to search for clues to the young woman's murder. In the process, they stumble upon conspiracies involving nationalists, unificationists, and a terrifying third entity that is said to lie in the spaces between the cities.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that this book defies easy classification. What genre is it: fantasy, science fiction, mystery? The truth is, it is rather a blending of all three, a homage to murder mystery and crime fiction in a strangely fantastical setting. The mystery itself is pretty straightforward. A young woman is found murdered and an investigation discovers a conspiracy (or two or three). The trick is to uncover the conspiracies and bring the woman’s murderer to justice. This part is done fairly well and the author does a good job keeping the tale moving and providing plot twists to keep the reader interested. Though there are a few mistakes that real detectives probably would not make, mostly stemming from Borlu's decision to not to follow up on some clues. Borlu figures since a breach has probably occured that the mysterious police body will have the resources to find the killer and serve justice. However, the murderer does not make things so easy for him.
In combination with the murder mystery, is the novel’s interesting literal take on Charles Dickens’ title, A Tale of Two Cities. The nature of the two cities is hard to explain, but think of known cities in history that have been divided such as Berlin and Jerusalem. Now take that to the next level and you may find the truth behind Beszel and Ul Qoma. The true nature of the cities' "split" is never revealed. Rather Mieville shows the effects of the split and psychology of the cities’ residents and leaves the rest up to the reader. I suppose you could say the book is not only a tale of two cities but also a tale of two mysteries.