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Synopsis

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, THE SEATTLE TIMES, AND PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
 
When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. To investigate, Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to its equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the vibrant city of Ul Qoma. But this is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a seeing of the unseen. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them more than their lives. What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.

Excerpt

Chapter One


I could not see the street or much of the estate. We were enclosed by dirt-coloured blocks, from windows out of which leaned vested men and women with morning hair and mugs of drink, eating breakfast and watching us. This open ground between the buildings had once been sculpted. It pitched like a golf course—a child’s mimicking of geography. Maybe they had been going to wood it and put in a pond. There was a copse but the saplings were dead.

The grass was weedy, threaded with paths footwalked between rubbish, rutted by wheel tracks. There were police at various tasks. I wasn’t the first detective there—I saw Bardo Naustin and a couple of others— but I was the most senior. I followed the sergeant to where most of my colleagues clustered, between a low derelict tower and a skateboard park ringed by big drum-shaped trash bins. Just beyond it we could hear the docks. A bunch of kids sat on a wall before standing officers. The gulls coiled over the gathering.

“Inspector.” I nodded at whomever that was. Someone offered a coffee but I shook my head and looked at the woman I had come to see.

She lay near the skate ramps. Nothing is still like the dead are still. The wind moves their hair, as it moved hers, and they don’t respond at all. She was in an ugly pose, with legs crooked as if about to get up, her arms in a strange bend. Her face was to the ground.

A young woman, brown hair pulled into pigtails poking up like plants. She was almost naked, and it was sad to see her skin smooth that cold morning, unbroken by gooseflesh. She wore only laddered stockings, one high heel on. Seeing me look for it, a sergeant waved at me from a way off, from where she guarded the dropped shoe.

It was a couple of hours since the body had been discovered. I looked her over. I held my breath and bent down toward the dirt, to look at her face, but I could only see one open eye.

“Where’s Shukman?”

“Not here yet, Inspector…”

“Someone call him, tell him to get a move on.” I smacked my watch. I was in charge of what we called the mise-en-crime. No one would move her until Shukman the patho had come, but there were other things to do. I checked sightlines. We were out of the way and the garbage containers obscured us, but I could feel attention on us like insects, from all over the estate. We milled.

There was a wet mattress on its edge between two of the bins, by a spread of rusting iron pieces interwoven with discarded chains. “That was on her.” The constable who spoke was Lizbyet Corwi, a smart young woman I’d worked with a couple of times. “Couldn’t exactly say she was well hidden, but it sort of made her look like a pile of rubbish, I guess.” I could see a rough rectangle of darker earth surrounding the dead woman—the remains of the ?mattress-?sheltered dew. Naustin was squatting by it, staring at the earth.

“The kids who found her tipped it half off,” Corwi said.

“How did they find her?”

Corwi pointed at the earth, at little scuffs of animal paws.

“Stopped her getting mauled. Ran like hell when they saw what it was, made the call. Our lot, when they arrived?.?.?.?” She glanced at two patrolmen I ?didn’t know.

“They moved it?”

She nodded. “See if she was still alive, they said.”

“What are their names?”

“Shushkil and Briamiv.”

“And these are the finders?” I nodded at the guarded kids. There were two girls, two guys. Midteens, cold, looking down.

“Yeah. Chewers.”

“Early morning pick-you-up?”

“That’s dedication, hm?” she said. “Maybe they’re up for junkies of the month or some shit. They got here a bit before seven. The skate pit’s organised that way, apparently. It’s only been built a couple of years, used to be nothing, but the locals’ve got their shift patterns down. Midnight to nine a.m., chewers only; nine to eleven, local gang plans the day; eleven to midnight, skateboards and rollerblades.”

“They carrying?”

“One of the boys has a little shiv, but really little. Couldn’t mug a milkrat with it—it’s a toy. And a chew each. That’s it.” She shrugged. “The dope wasn’t on them; we found it by the wall, but”— shrug—“they were the only ones around.”

She motioned over one of our colleagues and opened the bag he carried. Little bundles of resin-slathered grass. Feld is its street name—a tough crossbreed of Catha edulis spiked with tobacco and caffeine and stronger stuff, and fibreglass threads or similar to abrade the gums and get it into the blood. Its name is a trilingual pun: it’s khat where it’s grown, and the animal called “cat” in En- glish is feld in our own language. I sniffed it and it was pretty low-grade stuff. I walked over to where the four teenagers shivered in their puffy jackets.

“’Sup, policeman?” said one boy in a Bes-accented approximation of hip-hop English. He looked up and met my eye, but he was pale. Neither he nor any of his companions looked well. From where they sat they could not have seen the dead woman, but they did not even look in her direction.

They must have known we’d find the feld, and that we’d know it was theirs. They could have said nothing, just run.

“I’m Inspector Borlú,” I said. “Extreme Crime Squad.”

I did not say I’m Tyador. A difficult age to question, this—too old for first names, euphemisms and toys, not yet old enough to be straightforward opponents in interviews, when at least the rules were clear. “What’s your name?” The boy hesitated, considered using whatever slang handle he’d granted himself, did not.

“Vilyem Barichi.”

“You found her?” He nodded, and his friends nodded after him. “Tell me.”

“We come here because, ’cause, and…” Vilyem waited, but I said nothing about his drugs. He looked down. “And we seen something under that mattress and we pulled it off.”

“There was some…” His friends looked up as Vilyem hesitated, obviously superstitious.

“Wolves?” I said. They glanced at each other.

“Yeah man, some scabby little pack was nosing around there and…”

“So we thought it…”

“How long after you got here?” I said.

Vilyem shrugged. “Don’t know. Couple hours?”

“Anyone else around?”

“Saw some guys over there a while back.”

“Dealers?” A shrug.

“And there was a van came up on the grass and come over here and went off again after a bit. We ?didn’t speak to no one.”

“When was the van?”

“Don’t know.”

“It was still dark.” That was one of the girls.

“Okay. Vilyem, you guys, we’re going to get you some breakfast, something to drink, if you want.” I motioned to their guards. “Have we spoken to the parents?” I asked.

“On their way, boss; except hers”—pointing to one of the girls—“we can’t reach.”

“So keep trying. Get them to the centre now.”

The four teens looked at each other. “This is bullshit, man,” the boy who was not Vilyem said, uncertainly. He knew that according to some politics he should oppose my instruction, but he wanted to go with my subordinate. Black tea and bread and paperwork, the boredom and striplights, all so much not like the peeling back of that wet heavy, cumbersome mattress, in the yard, in the dark.

Stepen Shukman and his assistant Hamd Hamzinic had arrived. I looked at my watch. Shukman ignored me. When he bent to the body he wheezed. He certified death. He made observations that Hamzinic wrote down.

“Time?” I said.

“Twelve hours-ish,” Shukman said. He pressed down on one of the woman’s limbs. She rocked. In rigor, and unstable on the ground as she was, she probably assumed the position of her death lying on other contours. “She ?wasn’t killed here.” I had heard it said many times he was good at his job but had seen no evidence that he was anything but competent.

“Done?” he said to one of the scene techs. She took two more shots from different angles and nodded. Shukman rolled the woman over with Hamzinic’s help. She seemed to fight him with her cramped motionlessness. Turned, she was absurd, like someone playing at dead insect, her limbs crooked, rocking on her spine.

She looked up at us from below a fluttering fringe. Her face was set in a startled strain: she was endlessly surprised by herself. She was young. She was heavily made up, and it was smeared across a badly battered face. It was impossible to say what she looked like, what face those who knew her would see if they heard her name. We might know better later, when she relaxed into her death. Blood marked her front, dark as dirt. Flash flash of cameras.

“Well, hello cause of death,” Shukman said to the wounds in her chest.

On her left cheek, curving under the jaw, a long red split. She had been cut half the length of her face.

The wound was smooth for several centimetres, tracking precisely along her flesh like the sweep of a paintbrush. Where it went below her jaw, under the overhang of her mouth, it jagged ugly and ended or began with a deep torn hole in the soft tissue behind her bone. She looked unseeingly at me.

“Take some without the flash, too,” I said.

Like several others I looked away while Shukman murmured—it felt prurient to watch. Uniformed mise-en-crime technical investigators, mectecs in our slang, searched in an expanding circle. They overturned rubbish and foraged among the grooves where vehicles had driven. They lay down reference marks, and photographed.

“Alright then.” Shukman rose. “Let’s get her out of here.” A couple of the men hauled her onto a stretcher.

“Jesus Christ,” I said, “cover her.” Someone found a blanket I don’t know from where, and they started again towards Shukman’s vehicle.

“I’ll get going this afternoon,” he said. “Will I see you?” I wagged my head noncommittally. I walked towards Corwi.

“Naustin,” I called, when I was positioned so that Corwi would be at the edge of our conversation. She glanced up and came slightly closer.

“Inspector,” said Naustin.

“Go through it.”

He sipped his coffee and looked at me nervously.

“Hooker?” he said. “First impressions, Inspector. This area,

beat-?up, naked? And…” He pointed at his face, her exaggerated makeup. “Hooker.”

“Fight with a client?”

“Yeah but…If it was just the body wounds, you know, you’d, then you’re looking at, maybe she won’t do what he wants, whatever. He lashes out. But this.” He touched his cheek again uneasily. “That’s different.”

“A sicko?”

He shrugged. “Maybe. He cuts her, kills her, dumps her. Cocky bastard too, doesn’t give a shit that we’re going to find her.”

“Cocky or stupid.”

“Or cocky and stupid.”

“So a cocky, stupid sadist,” I said. He raised his eyes, Maybe.

“Alright,” I said. “Could be. Do the rounds of the local girls. Ask a uniform who knows the area. Ask if they’ve had trouble with anyone recently. Let’s get a photo circulated, put a name to Fulana Detail.” I used the generic name for woman-unknown. “First off I want you to question Barichi and his mates, there. Be nice, Bardo, they ?didn’t have to call this in. I mean that. And get Yaszek in with you.” Ramira Yaszek was an excellent questioner. “Call me this afternoon?” When he was out of earshot I said to Corwi, “A few years ago we’d not have had half as many guys on the murder of a working girl.”

“We’ve come a long way,” she said. She wasn’t much older than the dead woman.

“I doubt Naustin’s delighted to be on streetwalker duty, but you’ll notice he’s not complaining,” I said.

“We’ve come a long way,” she said.

“So?” I raised an eyebrow. Glanced in Naustin’s direction. I waited. I remembered Corwi’s work on the Shulban disappearance, a case considerably more Byzantine than it had initially appeared.

“It’s just, I guess, you know, we should keep in mind other possibilities,” she said.

“Tell me.”

“Her makeup,” she said. “It’s all, you know, earths and browns. It’s been put on thick, but it’s not—” She vamp-pouted. “And did you notice her hair?” I had. “Not dyed. Take a drive with me up GunterStrász, around by the arena, any of the girls’ hangouts. Two-thirds blonde, I reckon. And the rest are black or bloodred or some shit. And…” She fingered the air as if it were hair. “It’s dirty, but it’s a lot better than mine.” She ran her hand through her own split ends.

For many of the streetwalkers in Bes´zel, especially in areas like this, food and clothes for their kids came first; feld or crack for themselves; food for themselves; then sundries, in which list conditioner would come low. I glanced at the rest of the officers, at Naustin gathering himself to go.

“Okay,” I said. “Do you know this area?”

“Well,” she said, “it’s a bit off the track, you know? This is hardly even Bes´zel, really. My beat’s Lestov. They called a few of us in when they got the bell. But I did a tour here a couple years ago—I know it a bit.”

Lestov itself was already almost a suburb, six or so k out of the city centre, and we were south of that, over the Yovic Bridge on a bit of land between Bulkya Sound and, nearly, the mouth where the river joined the sea. Technically an island, though so close and conjoined to the mainland by ruins of industry you would never think of it as such, Kordvenna was estates, warehouses, low-rent bodegas scribble-linked by endless graffiti. It was far enough from Bes ´zel’s heart that it was easy to forget, unlike more inner-city slums.

“How long were you here?” I said.

“Six months, standard. What you’d expect: street theft, high kids smacking shit out of each other, drugs, hooking.”

“Murder?”

“Two or three in my time. Drugs stuff. Mostly stops short of that, though: the gangs are pretty smart at punishing each other without bringing in ECS.”

“Someone’s fucked up then.”

“Yeah. Or doesn’t care.”

“Okay,” I said. “I want you on this. What are you doing at the moment?”

“Nothing that can’t wait.”

“I want you to relocate for a bit. Got any contacts here still?” She pursed her lips. “Track them down if you can; if not, have a word with some of the local guys, see who their singers are. I want you on the ground. Listen out, go round the estate—what’s this place called again?”


From the Hardcover edition.
China Mieville|Author Q&A

About China Mieville

China Mieville - The City & The City

Photo © Kate Eshelby

China Miéville is the author of King Rat; Perdido Street Station, winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Fantasy Award; The Scar, winner of the Locus Award and the British Fantasy Award; Iron Council, winner of the Locus Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award; Looking for Jake, a collection of short stories; and Un Lun Dun, his New York Times bestselling book for younger readers. He lives and works in London.

Author Q&A

An Interview with China Miéville, author of The City & The City

Question: Cities are a central theme in many of your novels. What is it about “the city” that fascinates you?

China Miéville:
I'm almost certainly the worst person to answer this - I think writers are generally not the best people to understand their own predilections. But yes, pretty much all my books feature cities to some larger degree or other. I've lived in big cities all my life, particularly London, which is imprinted through me as if I was a stick of rock. (I don't know if that reference works in the US?) I like the palimpsest of cities, the mix of architectural ages, aesthetics, social groups. I like the fact that everything is distinct and mixed up and makes a totality which isn't reducible to the sum of its parts. I suspect I'm becoming a cliche, though: maybe I'll have to write a book set in a desert to spice things up a bit.
Q: Do you have any favorite cities (real or imaginary)?  And have those cities had any influence on your writing?
CM:
Oh plenty. The division between the real and imaginary cities is not hard and fast, either: I love the real London, the real Cairo, the real Havana, but I also passionately love those cities as they are filtered through fiction and art. The represented London, for example, in the works of De Quincey, Iain Sinclair, Dickens, Gaiman, Machen, et many al, is at least as important to me as the real one, in terms of influence. New York, Providence, Prague (all in real and imagined forms). When it comes to entirely imagined cities, Viriconium, Imrryr, Philip Reeve's Traction Cities, Celephais. The cities in Mary Gentles' _Rats and Gargoyles_, and Gene Wolfe's _Book of the New Sun_. The real Harare didn't particularly capture my imagination, but as filtered through Dambudzo Marechera's work, it did.

Q: What inspired you to depart from previous works and write your first police procedural?

CM: Various factors. I wanted to write a present for my Mum, who was a huge fan of crime novels: though she really liked my books, none of them were precisely her sort of thing, so I wanted to write something that was both exactly my sort of thing and exactly her sort of thing. I've been interested in the field a while - a large number of writers I respect enormously are huge crime readers, particularly I think because of the rigour you have to have over structure and narrative, so I wanted to take part in that. It's interesting to try to write books that are outside your immediate purview. There's also the fact that urban police procedurals involve a lot of dgging around in the undergrowth and the specificities of their settings, which appealed because I was very into by the setting I'd come up with, and thought a crime novel would be a good way to foreground it without subordinating plot.

Q: Did your writing in this new genre require any special research on technique?

CM:
I was very concerned that, as I have no track record in this area, I shouldn't seem to be crashing in clodhoppingly, breaking the china and generally being disrespectful (as one sometimes sees from 'mainstream' authors jumping into the genres I'm associated with). What that meant was that before I started, I steeped myself in crime. I'd always read it on and off - usually when something was recommended by my Mum - but I went on a binge, revisiting old favourites and trying some new, going for the most feted writers as well as trying some more underground names. I relied a lot on the recommendations of trusted friends. I also went for a lot of stories with non-British or -American settings, as my own setting is rather different. So I tried very hard to write something absolutely respectful of the field, in terms of its structure, narrative rigour, and attempting to be part of it, investigating various different traditions of crime novel. (Police procedurals, conspiracy thrillers, whodunnits.) If I've done my job right, there's no cheating - although I would say that one of the things I most like in some crime novels are the moments of gap, when something marvellous - not supernatural, necessarily - intrudes, when there's an ellipsis that you as a reader can't enter and you're left with a sense of exciting estrangement. I find that tradition in particular in European crime novels. I stress that I don't mean logical *cheating* - so much as a slightly oneiric momentum. A lot of eastern European novels have that sense that you're walking in a landscape as much slightly dreamy/psychic as real. And in the English tradition, I'd say that some of Holmes's leaps of logic while not in any way formally fantastic achieve their effect by a sort of cognitive estrangement - they are formally realistic without being realistic at all. That's not a criticism - it's praise.

The other thing that was important to me was about voice. Because pace is very important in a crime novel, I wanted to experiment with a rather different voice than in my other books. They've tended towards very baroque prose - this is more pared down, attempting fidelity to a different set of traditions. There's no 'better' here - I still passionately love lush prose, when it's done well. But it's good for you as a writer, I think - and I hope for readers too - to try different things, to experiment and change.

Q: The cities in The City & The City are imaginary, but you positioned them in Eastern Europe.  Why select this location?

CM:
Are they in Eastern Europe? Are you sure? They *might* be. At least roughly.  There are various clues as to their *approximate* locations but the stress is very much on the word 'approximate' there. The cities of the title are two very different cities, both in different ways tilting towards distinct (if, inevitably, overlapping) psychogeographic traditions. Their locations are ways of mediating those traditions, and the cities places within them. This I realise is an evasive answer. What I will say is that Eastern European writing was, for various reasons, extremely important to this book - Bruno Schulz, Kafka - and that flavour I hope comes through. (Hazy lines, though: so was Mitteleuropean writing - Alfred Kubin - though. And, in a mediated way, French. Also American - Chandler. This is not to disavow the Eastern European, which was particularly key.)


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise | Awards

Praise

“Daring and disturbing . . . Miéville illuminates fundamental and unsettling questions about culture, governance and the shadowy differences that keep us apart.”—Walter Mosley, author of Devil in a Blue Dress

"Lots of books dabble in several genres but few manage to weld them together as seamlessly and as originally as The City and The City. In a tale set in a series of cities vertiginously layered in the same space, Miéville offers the detective novel re-envisioned through the prism of the fantastic. The result is a stunning piece of artistry that has both all the satisfactions of a good mystery and all the delight and wonder of the best fantasy.”—Brian Evenson, author of Last Days

“If Philip K. Dick and Raymond Chandler's love child were raised by Franz Kafka, the writing that emerged might resemble China Mieville's new novel, The City & the City." —Los Angeles Times

“China Mieville has made his name via award-winning, genre-bending titles such as King Rat, Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council. Now, in The City & the City, he sets out to bend yet another genre, that of the police procedural, and he succeeds brilliantly…. [An] extraordinary, wholly engaging read.” — St. Petersburg Times

“An eye-opening genre-buster. The names of Kafka and Orwell tend to be invoked too easily for anything a bit out of the ordinary, but in this case they are worthy comparisons.” — The Times, London

“Evoking such writers as Franz Kafka and Mikhail Bulgakov, Mr. Miéville asks readers to make conceptual leaps and not to simply take flights of fancy.”—Wall Street Journal

“An outstanding take on police procedurals…. Through this exaggerated metaphor of segregation, Miéville skillfully examines the illusions people embrace to preserve their preferred social realities.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“An excellent police procedural and a fascinating urban fantasy, this is essential reading for all mystery and fantasy fans.”—Booklist, starred review

“This spectacularly, intricately paranoid yarn is worth the effort.” — Kirkus, starred review


From the Hardcover edition.

Awards

WINNER 2010 Arthur C. Clarke Award

  • The City & The City by China Mieville
  • April 27, 2010
  • Fiction - Fantasy
  • Del Rey
  • $16.00
  • 9780345497529

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