One of my reading goals this year is to read more noir. Another is to read more small press releases. And COIL by Ren Warom is a science fiction detective thriller that satisfies both these needs. A gritty, futuristic murder mystery spattered with copious amounts of biopunk body horror, Coil isn’t a book for the squeamish, but if you like stories with gritty characters and settings featuring criminal gangs warring with corrupt and bureaucratic law enforcement agencies then BOY do I have a recommendation for you!
What I loved about Coil was Warom’s ability to take a simple, yet solid, foundation of noir tropes and build a rich and complex world on top of it. The whole story takes place in The Spires, a mega-city that has emerged from the ruins of Detroit following some kind of cataclysmic event in the history of the book’s world. In the Spires, numerous criminal gangs have taken control of sectors of the city and largely operate with the tacit approval of a police force which is powerless to confront them. With drastic technological change and the inevitable culture shift that accompanied it, this is a world where humans have merged with machines and body modification is ubiquitous, to the extent that to be a human without body mods is considered altogether weird – abnormal.
And in this world we meet Bone Adams. Bone is a legend, the best mortician in the Spires, and a man without modification in a world where body mods define humanity. When a new killer begins leaving bodies stripped of mods but twisted and bent into grotesque pieces of art, City Officer Stark tasks Bone to unravel the clues, few though they may be. In Warom’s world, morticians have become much more than simple undertakers. In a world littered with the bodies of gangland murders, where large sections of the population seek out illegal body modifications and technological implants from surgeons who owe allegiance to criminal gangs, often the only way to identify a corpse is through tracing the modification trail. Morticians are detectives and diplomats required to have one foot in the shady criminal underworld without falling foul of either the gangs or the police.
We get to follow Bone as he navigates the seedy underbelly of the Spires, as he and City Officer Stark attempt to unravel the clues they uncover about the mysterious killer. These are our two main viewpoint characters and Warom does a great job of taking the grizzled, alcoholic rogues of pulp noir and fleshing them out into characters you can really root for, even if they are difficult, frustrating SOB’s sometimes. And what is pulp noir without a femme fatale? Coil has such a good femme fatale. I can’t expand much without getting into spoiler territory but holy shit I need you to read this book, if not for the sole reason I need someone to talk about this with!
I’m not very practised at reading mysteries and thrillers where you can follow the clues and work out what’s going on yourself if you’re clever, so I never saw the ending coming, but in retrospect there’s some really top notch foreshadowing. Coil is one of those books where I kind of want to read it again just so I can pick up on all the hints and clues Warom drops throughout the story. I recently saw the film Knives Out, and so much of the joy of that film (and there was much joy to be had about it) was trying to pick up on the clues as the story progressed. Coil is much the same and I’m absolutely hankering for more mystery fiction right now.
All told, Coil is a great book and has me interested in reading Ren Warom’s back catalogue, which features some very interesting-sounding stories, including some good ol’ cyberpunk in ESCAPOLOGY about a data thief hired to hack into a corporate databank – absolutely my jam all over.
Go read Coil. Definite recommend from me.