Source: Review copy
Publication: 4 April 2023 from Abacus
My thanks to Abacus Books for an advance copy for review
In a world where a global event has blinded every person on the planet, one detective seeks a murderer who should not, cannot, exist.
Seven years ago, everyone in the world went blind in a matter of months. Technology helped people adjust to the new normal, creating a device that approximates vision, downloading visual data directly to people’s brains. But what happens when someone finds a way to manipulate it and change what people see?
Homicide detective Mark Owens has been on the force since before The Blinding. When a scientist is murdered, and the only witness insists the killer was blacked out of her vision, Owens doesn’t believe her – until a similar murder happens in front of him. With suspects ranging from tech billionaires to anti-modernity cultists, Owens must conduct an investigation in which he can’t even trust his own eyes…
Thomas Mullen’s world building is excellent. He has created an altogether thrilling police procedural in a world that is so well thought through it becomes entirely understandable and plausible.
This world is one in which everyone went inexplicably blind over a fairly short period of time. It happened across the world, in much the same way that the Covid pandemic travelled across continents. People’s sight got fuzzy, then it disappeared. There was, of course, mass panic. Many people behaved very badly. Crowds of newly blinded people attempted to ransack stores or storm government buildings, desperate to know how they were supposed to survive. The authorities were in no better a state. The police, themselves blind, struggled to control crowds. Bad things happened. Now there’s a Truth Commission set up to look into what happened in those desperate times and perhaps to redress some of the wrongs.
After ‘the blinding’ as it became known, technology was able to restore a form of sight using what are called ‘vidders’ metal circuitry embedded into the side of the temple and connecting to the cerebral cortex which helps people to ‘see’. It has, of course, other uses, so wearers will also get pop up ads, government notices and other detritus of today’s digital technology. Of course there are groups who refuse such additions and prefer to develop their skills while lacking sight. And though there are programmes for the poor, not everyone has a vidder for reasons of affordability.
Homicide Detective Mark Owens is one of those being investigated by the Truth Commission. He lost his life partner after the blinding. An artist, Jeanie lost her joy in painting and Mark found her hanging in her studio. Now he is dating a fellow cop, Amira, but theirs is a union that does not seem to be going anywhere.
Crime is still a major problem and Detective Owens and Safiya Khouri, alongside his long term police partner the hefty and very angry Peterson, are chasing villains in the River District, where a tense situation is boiling over and Owens vidder stops working. Owens takes a chance and using his other senses, takes a shot while blinded.
His Captain is less than happy and this, together with the Truth Commission investigation, leaves Owens somewhat isolated. Then he is given a murder case. Scientist Ray Jensen was working for Bio-Lux Technology, the company which has made its money from being the only company to patent and make vidders. He was working on ways to enhance vidders. A witness says that Jensen was attacked by a black blur. But such a thing just is not possible. If it were, that would mean that vidders could be hacked and that way madness lies.
Yet Owens has heard a similar story before and he when he experiences just this has to investigate. More murders take place and it becomes very clear that something very disturbing is happening. As Owens becomes increasingly isolated and then becomes a wanted man, he must use all his powers to find out what’s going on and why. The stakes for mankind have never been higher.
Thomas Mullen writes a thrilling police procedural set in a changed world, but one which has lessons for us all. This is a surveillance society where vidders can be tracked, messages can be sent, deep fakes created and planted in our brains. Technology rules and governments dictate what people are allowed to ‘see’ and experience.
Given where we are with tracking technology and VR, this is not a world that feels all that far away.
Verdict: A cracking police procedural set in a world that is very different, yet feels very close. Mullen creates a level of detail that enhances the plausibility of his scenario and delivers a tense and suspenseful plot alongside some thrilling action. This is top notch, sharply written, scary dystopian detective fiction and I’d certainly reach for more of his work.
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Thomas Mullen is the internationally bestselling author of several previous novels, including Darktown, an NPR Best Book of 2016, which was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Southern Book Prize, the Indies Choice Book Award, and was nominated for or won prizes in France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The follow-up, Lightning Men, was named one of the Top Ten Crime Novels of 2017 by The New York Times and was shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award. His debut, The Last Town on Earth, set during the 1918 flu pandemic, was named Best Debut Novel of 2006 by USA Today and was awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for excellence in historical fiction. He lives in Atlanta.
One thought on “The Blind Spots by Thomas Mullen @Mullenwrites @AbacusBooks @LittleBrownUK”
I loved Thomas Mullen’s writing in his Darktown novels & I love speculative fiction in general so I must give this a read, I think.