The novel “A Quantum Murder” by Peter F. Hamilton was published for the first time in 1994. It’s the second of the Greg Mandel trilogy and follows “Mindstar Rising“.
Professor Edward Kitchener is a a double Nobel laureate and is one of the world’s most famous scientists but continues his career as a university teacher as well. In particular, he’s a kind of mentor for students with the highest skills. He’s also known to provide “special lessons” to female students.
When Edward Kitchener is killed in a particularly brutal manner that resembled the modus operandi of a serial killer who’s been locked in a criminal asylum for years, for the English police the case is very hot. Kitchener was also working on a project for Event Horizon and to check the case the company’s owner Julia Evans asks Greg Mandel for his help.
Greg Mandel’s trilogy is set in a near-near future in a UK devastated by the dictatorship of the Popular Socialist Party. The situation in this future is made worse by global warming that caused serious problems to the territory. Mandel is a war veteran who was part of a very special brigade called Mindstar whose members were subjected to physiological changes to increase their potential psychic abilities.
“A Quantum Murder” is set about two years after the events of “Mindstar Rising”. Greg Mandel stopped working as a private investigator and married Eleanor but when Julia Evans asks him to investigate the murder of Professor Edward Kitchener he can’t say no. As a result, he has to use the skills acquired in the military and work with the police, where not everyone is happy about his presence, imposed thanks to Event Horizon’s economic power.
Edward Kitchener’s participation in an Event Horizon project opens up the possibility of an industrial espionage case with an attempt to cover it with a particularly brutal way of killing the victim mimicking a serial killer. However, at the heart of the story there’s a science fiction detective story in which the first suspects are some students, the members of a small selected group under the direct tutelage of their teacher.
From the start, Peter F. Hamilton shows that he created these characters with their own personality with different reactions to their teacher’s murder and when they’re interrogated by the police and Greg Mandel. Edward Kitchener was not only their teacher but what emerges is that for them he was a kind of charismatic leader who, although he was far from a young man, usually had sexual relationships with his female students.
The characters have merits and flaws with the consequence that they created rather complex and not always easy interpersonal relationships. All this makes the investigation more complex despite Greg Mandel’s skills and the situation seems to get worse when neither he nor the cops seem to be able to find clues that might lead to a breakthrough. Difficult decisions lead to discoveries that seem to contradict what seemed to be established.
The mystery plot is based on a number of science fiction elements so the reader needs to pay attention to the various technologies described in the novel. Peter F. Hamilton offers various clues that can allow the reader to understand who may be the perpetrator. In essence, the author didn’t just write a science fiction story about a murder but tried to put the cards on the table trying to avoid an excessive technical and scientific complexity.
This story is developed in the frame already used in “Mindstar Rising” and the setting is also crucial in “A Quantum Murder”. Peter F. Hamilton continually adds details and comments from the characters about the consequences of climate changes. He also keeps on including references to the dictatorship that devastated the former UK and some consequences are important during Greg Mandel’s investigation.
This novel contains moments of action but the investigation unfolds mainly through conversations among characters in search of clues and reflections that may lead to some breakthrough. The consequence is that the pace tends to be rather slow and the tension comes from the difficulties of the investigation with a series of complex interpersonal relationships.
“A Quantum Murder” also shows the evolution of the protagonists and the relationships among them. They’re far from perfect and for example Greg Mandel’s character is far from easy and Julia Evans has grown up but still pays a lot of attention to the comments about what she wears in public occasions.
Overall, “A Quantum Murder” seemed to me a good science fiction mystery that takes good advantage of the future described in “Mindstar Rising”. The second novel is independent from the first one but to best appreciate their protagonists and their fictional universe it’s better to read them both. If you like this type of storie I recommend reading them.