Review | Great North Road by Peter F Hamilton (Pan Macmillan)

Title: Great North Road
Author: Peter F Hamilton
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Format: Hardback
Release Date: 27th September 2012

Reviewed by: Mark Chitty

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St Libra is paradise for Earth's mega-rich. Until the killing begins.

In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, AD 2142, Detective Sidney Hurst attends a brutal murder scene. The victim is one of the wealthy North family clones – but none have been reported missing. And the crime’s most disturbing aspect is how the victim was killed. Twenty years ago, a North clone billionaire and his household were horrifically murdered in exactly the same manner, on the tropical planet of St Libra. But if the murderer is still at large, was Angela Tramelo wrongly convicted? Tough and confident, she never waivered under interrogation – claiming she alone survived an alien attack. But there is no animal life on St Libra.

Investigating this alien threat becomes the Human Defence Agency’s top priority. The bio-fuel flowing from St Libra is the lifeblood of Earth’s economy and must be secured. So a vast expedition is mounted via the Newcastle gateway, and teams of engineers, support personnel and xenobiologists are dispatched to the planet. Along with their technical advisor, grudgingly released from prison, Angela Tramelo. But the expedition is cut off, deep within St Libra’s rainforests. Then the murders begin. Someone or something is picking off the team one by one. Angela insists it’s the alien, but her new colleagues aren’t so sure. Maybe she did see an alien, or maybe she has other reasons for being on St Libra ...

In this stunning, standalone adventure, Peter F. Hamilton blends fast-paced narrative with vividly imagined future-worlds.

Great North Road is Peter F Hamilton's latest novel, and first stand-alone in a decade. His past six books have all been set in his Commonwealth Universe (Misspent Youth, Pandora's Star, Judas Unchained, The Dreaming Void, The Temporal Void, and The Evolutionary Void), and Great North Road is a big step away from the galaxy-spanning action of those novels. It still has all of Hamilton's trademarks - in-depth world building, a large cast of characters, interesting aliens, and a complex plot - and at over a thousand pages it certainly tells an epic story.

Great North Road is a story of two halfs. The first is the investigation that happens in Newcastle after a North clone is found murdered, and focuses on the police team led by Detective Sid Hurst as they attempt to track down the killer. What makes this even more complicated is the fact that the murder appears to have been commited in the same way as one from twenty years ago on St Libra, but the woman who was convicted of the crime, Angela Tremalo, is locked up. And she still maintains her innocence, her story never waivering or changing. Could the alien she spoke of be back?

The second thread focuses on the expedition to St Libra to investigate for signs of life following the North murder, to look for this mysterious alien that Angel Tremalo spoke of. It becomes clear that she was telling the truth, but for reasons kept to themselves, the Human Defense Agency decided to lock her up and cover up the details of the murders. And when members of the expedition start dying everyone questions the story, and if she was actually telling the truth after all...

It's always hard to sum up a Peter F Hamilton novel, simply because condensing a thousand pages into a couple of paragraphs is damned near impossible. Suffice to say that simplifying the story into the two threads is the best way to go about it, but it doesn't do justice to the story or Hamilton's skills as a writer who can weave a tale with so much going on.

As far as the story goes, Great North Road delivers, and it's clear Hamilton enjoys his detective plots a great deal. Sid Hurst and his team are well developed, and with the Newcastle investigation making up almost the entire first 300 pages, it's well plotted and detailed, sometimes a little too much. The plot doesn't end at that point and carries on throughout the novel, though I felt that the whole section could have been tighter, and a little less bloated in parts. I can't put my finger on exactly where that should be done, but it did start to drag and my impatience to see more of the expedition didn't help the issue.

As for the expedition, it's by far the highlight of Great North Road, and shows Hamilton at his best. The world building is spot on, intricate, and a joy to read. The characters that form part of the expedition are also enjoyable to read, with Angela Tremalo standing out from the crowd. If Great North Road can be anyone's story, it's hers. With flashbacks spread throughout we discover more details about her past, her motivations, and the truth behind her actions. It's interesting in a way I didn't expect, and come the end of the novel she was by far my favourite character.

Of course, Great North Road has many more aspects to it - the weird (and perhaps under-developed) alien Zanth that are a constant threat to Humanity's worlds; the genetic alterations that are part of the upper class culture; the North clone clan, and the way they have developed (particularly those from the Jupiter habitat); and, of course, the technology that Peter always excels at creating and describing.

Hamilton has once again shown why he is one of the best writers in the field today, how he can manage multiple plot threads and complicated twists and turns. Above all he can create a world that is unbelievably detailed, and can tell a vast and engrossing story within it.

However, is Great North Road a good book for those new to Hamilton's work? The short answer is yes, but it's not the best stepping on spot - I'll always recommend Pandora's Star and/or Fallen Dragon for those that ask. Regardless of that, if you want a stand-alone sci-fi novel to get lost in, you can't go wrong with Great North Road.

annie  – (28 September 2012 at 19:45)  

I really couldn't get into Pandora's Star, but this sounds so good I'll give Hamilton another try. Thanks!

Jasper –   – (29 September 2012 at 04:37)  

Try Fallen Dragon if you want to try PFH again. That's a very good example of his work, on a small scale.

bascule  – (3 October 2012 at 10:47)  

You didn't even mention that you're in it!

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