Gary Greenwood Jigsaw Men Reviewed by Rick Kleffel

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Jigsaw Men

Gary Greenwood

PS Publishing

UK Trade Paperback First

ISBN 1-902-88077-3

Publication Date: 02-15-2004

103 Pages; £10.00

Date Reviewed: 04-01-04

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2004



Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Alternate history novels might sound like easy fun to write. Simply play "What if?" with your favorite historical persona, and voila, you've got a clever story waiting to be written. But the hard fact of the matter is that alternate history demands not one, but two good stories. In the foreground, you've got to have your characters do something more interesting than walk around and say "What a wonderful world it is!" But in the background, your alternate history timeline itself has to have another story, equally compelling, to drive the changes you wreak within the world you portray. It's not enough to say "What if?" and leave it at that. The world an author creates must have a compelling story, and the story behind the world must be driven by compelling characters who have an arc of their own.

The novella format might not be the place you'd expect a satisfyingly complex alternate history to play out, But Gary Greenwood's 'Jigsaw Men' manages to pack a world and a story into 103 pages. Dense, full of inventive and resonant riffs on history, mystery character, Greenwood's novella offers the satisfying density of the average novel. His break point imagines that Victor Frankenstein had rather more success than attributed to him in Mary Shelley's fiction. In fact, Frankenstein went on to help create a veritable army of easily resurrectable monsters -- Jigsaw men, they're called some one hundred years later. The British empire never saw a sunset as a result, among other things -- lots of other things.

David Livingstone is a Detective in London's Metropolitan Police department, pulled in to help find the missing daughter of a prominent MP. But this is no straightforward missing person. Livingstone's case leads him to a dark world of Jigsaw porn, terrorism and his own dark past.

Greenwood has a field day with his alternate history, spitting out riffs and raucous jokes, throwing away lines that he could easily spin into stories. In fact, a large part of the narrative consists of Livingstone's helpful info-dumps that were they any less clever -- or less integral to the foreground plotting -- would threaten to derail the story. But Greenwood keeps his focus on the mystery of the missing daughter, and his main characters come to life in concise scenes that cover plenty of ground in a breathtakingly short time.

Greenwood gets away with a lot in this novella because he's written a story so tightly interwoven that it couldn't be told with any fewer words. Moreover, the mystery in the foreground slips seamlessly into the mystery in the background, and they come together in a satisfying manner that makes full use of every genre on display; mystery, science fiction, historical novel, and character arc. Greenwood writes an entertainingly full novel in the span of a tight novella. Better yet, the door is left firmly open for sequels. With a world this packed with invention and cops this likable, with mysteries this tight and this imaginative, he better leave that door open -- and come back through with another story.