The City & The City uses a stock sci-fi concept of the parallel world but interestingly ‘cross-hatches’ one city upon another. Beszel and Ul Qoma exist in the same time and space and the inhabitants follow an ingrained protocol to avoid bumping into or looking at the inhabitants of the other city for fear of being dealt with for their indiscretion by a mystical organisation called Breach.
The overall theme has been compared in turns as Kafka-esque or comparable to my old favourite Philip K Dick, and I suppose these comparisons for once are acceptable if you ponder enough on the metaphors in Mieville’s metaphysics. But, to be frank, when I read a book these days I want a good story first and I can take or leave the symbolism and theme.
The story follows Inspector Tyador Borlu of the extreme crime squad in his investigation into the murder of a woman found on wasteland in Beszel. His investigations lead him to explore the secret organisations existent in both cities and as you would expect an ultimate showdown of sorts with Breach. There is a huge question mark over whether the dead woman had uncovered the existence of a third city called Orciny and had been killed because of her discovery.
This is a good story reminiscent of a hard-boiled detective yarn and in a similar vein to Mieville’s Kraken. In comparison to The Long Earth, another parallel world story I read around the same time, The City & The City is a lot more coherent in terms of story, but on the flip side is harder to read – the dialogue is not run of the mill and Mieville’s grammar and use of invented words sometimes left me having to re-read sentences to make sense of them.
Also I found the actual reality of Borlu’s case once it was solved to be less interesting than the trail of red herrings Mieville had laid out and requiring a little too much exposition from the author. Mieville frustrates me at times as I still regard his Perdido Street Station to be one of the best books I have ever read.