Red Planet Blues
By Robert J. Sawyer
Ace Books, 2013
Red Planet Blues is a science fiction / detective novel, the story of a traditional hard-boiled private eye on the Red Planet. It was first published, in part, as the short story Identity Theft (2005), winner of Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficción and finalist for the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, and Aurora Award.
Alex Lomax is a very traditional private eye. He likes his booze cheap, his women shapely, and his cops bribe-able. He also likes his organic body, despite this putting him at a distinct disadvantage at times, as more and more people make the switch over to android-hood, becoming stronger, faster, and more bullet-proof. This is particularly a problem because Lomax is exactly the type of PI that people tend to try to kill.
Well... one day this shapely broad shows up in his office and asks for help finding her husband. It's not easy to go missing in the only dome on the planet, and it's hardly a surprise when the husband turns up violently deactivated in the basement of his business establishment. It is a surprise, however, when certain illegal people start turning up as androids. Sometimes as very violent androids.
But this is mostly a tale of fossil hunting. Really, the only reason people come to Mars is to hunt for the few rare signs of life that inhabited the planet a billion years past. And all of them are hoping to find the Alpha Deposit, a (presumed) massive deposit of particularly high-quality specimens discovered by the first explorers on Mars, and lost when their final expedition ended in a large fireball. There's a lot of money to be made by the prospector who rediscovers Alpha, and people are willing to kill for a clue as to where it may be... and there seem to be a lot of people (biological and otherwise) who are really quite certain that someone has some very good clues. And if you are looking for clues, you naturally hire a detective.
This story deals a lot with the problems of personal identity when a mind can be easy copied in to a new body (and, illegally, into multiple bodies), and this is used to good effect in the twisted mystery plots. The philosophy of personal identity isn't explored in any depth, as Lomax takes a very pragmatic view of the whole thing and the only ones actively disagreeing with him are religious nuts who are only worried about souls, but it does make for a good SF hook and PI puzzles.
Overall, the story is a bit light as in both tone and reading level, both as SF and as a detective novel. However, it has some interesting technology, and Sawyer makes an attempt at keeping the science realistic, making it a engaging work of SF. Additionally, it has enough plots twists, both familiar and new, to please fans of the traditional detective novel. It is a rollicking good adventure, and fun read.