A word of warning – if you’re going through any kind of emotional crisis, or just want to read a bit of light relief before drifting off to sleep, don’t pick up this book. Dark Heavens puts the ‘eek!’ in bleak... However, if Richard Morgan’s world does it for you, then Levy’s classier effort – there’s less swearing and sex, for starters – should hold you right to the very end. The same rage at humankind’s greedy, shortsighted cruelty flares through both men’s work making them a riveting, if deeply uncomfortable read.
Levy’s depiction of a slowly dying Earth after a catastrophic war, with politicians and individuals flailing around for some sort of solution is the backdrop to this pitch-black noir thriller. His main character, Cy Auger, faces a career crisis as his attempts to ensure mass suicides are conducted ethically are overwhelmed by political manoeuvring. His personal life in tatters after a tragic accident on his wedding day, he refuses to back away and do nothing. It is the classic tale of the besieged hero fighting against the odds, gathering along the way a ragtag (literally) bunch of people willing to help.
However, Levy’s intelligent handling of this stock plot device sets this book apart from yet another futuristic whodunit (I’ve nothing against them, by the way – one of my favourite sub-genres...) into something that will linger in my head for a lot longer. His deft, understated writing style vividly depicts the heartbreaking plight of our planet in chilling detail. His chief protagonist, Auger, is pleasingly complex and we have a raft of minor characters whose personal dilemmas are swiftly laid out as they whirl the plot along at a brisk clip, with plenty of unexpected twists and a satisfyingly surprising end. His storytelling style is dense, with the expectation that the reader will join up the dots. If you attempt to skim this book at any point, you are apt to lose the thread.
I know this to my cost. First time around, in an attempt to skip some of the misery, I tried it – and ended up abandoning it. Normally, I don’t bother to return to books I can’t get through, but I’d read enough to know that this was a good ‘un.
However, that is my main quibble. Despite the slightly upbeat ending, I feel that a couple of humorous touches along the way could have made the book more digestible without compromising the overall tone. This is, of course, a purely personal preference. If your tastes run to the darker side of science fiction and utopia for you is dystopian chaos, then Levy is certainly your man and you may think my four star rating is on the mean side.