Friday Review: The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tesla Crane, heiress and talented engineer, is on her honeymoon on a luxury space liner traveling from the Moon to Mars. She and her new husband are traveling under assumed names in order to try to gain some privacy. Along for the trip is Tesla’s adorable service dog, Gimlet, a West Highland White Terrier. Tesla suffers from chronic pain due to an accident years ago on a project she developed- an accident that not only left Tesla permanently injured but where people died. It left Tesla with not only the wrecked spine, but ongoing PTSD. When a passenger is murdered, suspicion falls on Tesla’s new husband, and the security force on the liner aren’t interested in hearing anything different. When a second body is discovered and all the passengers on the liner are accounted for, Tesla decides it is up to her to clear her husband’s name and stop the body count from rising.

This was a fun book. It is a light-hearted murder mystery in the vein of The Thin Man movies. There’s some humor, some romance, some sleuthing, and a good bit of drinking. Yes, Tesla, once she decides she needs to toss her alias aside, does throw her name, connections, and money around a bit in order to make sure she gets what she wants, but it didn’t seem that far off from what someone in her position would do. A fortune and a well-known name go a long way toward getting things done, in our world and this future one. The “police” here do seem a bit underwhelming in their abilities, but again, they are the security on a luxury liner full of rich folk on holiday, not actual detectives. Most of the characters are quirky and odd. Gimlet is adorable and manages to steal any scene she’s in. The plot is pretty straightforward with a few twists and suspenseful moments, but nothing too convoluted or bloody. The setting is quite nicely done, with accurate touches like the lag in communication time from the liner to Tesla’s attorney on Earth.

It’s a quick, fun read that does require some suspension of disbelief to enjoy fully, but if you can do that, it’s also an enjoyable romp. If you liked the Thin Man stories, you will probably enjoy The Spare Man.

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