Written by: Amanda Bridgeman
Published by: Angry Robot Books
Synopsis: In a small religious community rocked by a spree of shocking murders, Detectives Salvi Brentt and Mitch Grenville find themselves surrounded by suspects. The Children of Christ have a tight grip on their people, and the Solme Complex neurally edit violent criminals – Subjugates – into placid servants called Serenes. In a town where purity and sin, temptation and repression live side by side, everyone has a motive. But as the bodies mount up, the frustrated detectives begin to crack under the pressure: their demons are coming to light, and who knows where that blurred line between man and monster truly lies.
Set in the near-future where technology and religion occupy opposite ends of the same spectrum, “The Subjugate” is a police procedural that flirts with philosophical topics such as morality, redemption and whether the ends justify the means. Detectives Brentt and Grenville are assigned to a homicide outside of the technological underbelly that was formerly San Francisco, located in a tech-free religious outpost where it appears even the most ardent churchgoer is hiding a dark secret. However, the list of suspects appears endless due to the proximity of the Solme Complex – an experimental prison where violent criminals undergo extensive brainwashing and torture to become placid servants called Serenes. Could one of these men have broken their programming and committed the crime, or is the perpetrator closer to home?
Amanda Bridgeman’s neo-noir novel is gripping from the outset, dealing with the juxtaposition of the futuristic tech-focused landscape of the big city against the simple, pure moral values of Bountiful. The plain-living, tech-free people of the town are reminiscent of the Amish, and how they live in an enclosed community free from the temptations of technology. Bridgeman alludes to a catastrophic event called ‘The Crash’ which saw a lot of people move away from technology to a more low-fi existence. From the clues given in the book, it seems like it was some terrorist attack that hacked into people’s aural interfaces to cause chaos, possibly even controlling others actions remotely. Despite this, the majority of the world continues to rely on AI, AR and VR technology for both professional and leisure activities, stopping short of in-built aural tech.
Told from the perspective of Detective Brentt, “The Subjugate” is one of those murder mysteries that begins to infect the personal lives of the detectives investigating the case, and it is great to see how the characters’ troubled histories influence their decisions during their investigation, and how they struggle to work through their issues as partners. The relationship between Brentt and Grenville is almost as thrilling as the murder investigation itself, and Bridgeman does a tremendous job at blending their own stories into the crimes they have to solve. There is one key sequence where the two detectives finally unburden themselves which is an absolute page-turner, and the tension (both sexual and otherwise) radiates off the page. There is definitely a cinematic quality to the novel, and it has the makings of a brilliant science-fiction crime thriller. Stick someone like Luc Besson behind the camera, and you have a cult movie on your hands.
One of the most unsettling aspects of the novel, aside from the gruesome murders committed by the Bountiful killer, is the emotionless Subjugates and Serenes – former violent criminals effectively lobotomised into becoming subservient slaves for the community. Each one is a suspect to the crimes, and their sinister calmness would make for an excellent visual on the big screen. The book’s cover depicts one of the Subjugates, demonstrating how eerie and creepy-looking these emotionally burned-out prisoners are. It is through these characters that Bridgeman focuses on the notion of redemption and whether man has the right to effectively erase another man’s persona in order to redeem them. There are some conflicting moments where these former rapists and murderers are shown in a sympathetic light, causing both the protagonist and the reader to question whether it is possible to forgive past transgressions. Set against the religious backdrop of Bountiful, and you have a solid hook that defines the narrative and sets the novel apart from others in the same sub-genre.
Extraordinarily well-written and tense as hell towards the end, “The Subjugate” is a novel that will stay with me for some time. Reminiscent of films as diverse as Blade Runner and Witness, Amanda Bridgeman’s murder mystery had me guessing right up until the end with plenty of plausible suspects peppered throughout the book. A literal “whodunnit” up to the very end, “The Subjugate” is a rewarding read for science-fiction and murder mysteries fans alike. I loved everything about the book from the main concept of the Subjugates and Serenes to the complicated relationship between the lead characters – it may sound like a cliché, but I couldn’t put this one down. Fully deserving of a big-screen adaptation, “The Subjugate” is definitely one of my favourite reads of the year!
Score – ★★★★½
The Subjugate is available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle, or collected in paperback format on Amazon and all good bookstores. It can also be purchased directly from the publisher, Angry Robot Books, at their website.