This week I read the fourth title in Malcolm Rose's Traces series: Double Check. I found it both entertaining and thought-provoking. This series is set in a futuristic version of the UK. Luke Harding is a sixteen-year-old Forensic Investigator employed by The Authorities (think 1984 and Big Brother, with updated technology). Luke is constantly accompanied by his Mobile Aid to Law and Crime, Malc, a kind of high-powered robot sidekick who has a constant uplink to most databases. The pair are sometimes also assisted by Luke's girlfriend Jade, a musician.
In this episode, Luke is conducting a last-minute investigation of a murder, with only days before the young boy who was convicted of the crime will be put to death. One of Luke's friends is certain of the boy's innocence, and despite the preponderance of forensic evidence, Luke starts to have his doubts, too.
At the same time, The Authorities have asked Luke to investigate a case of "inappropriate pairing", an area in which Luke is the last person who can be objective. In Luke's world, couples are paired for life by the state, according to matching job abilities, and their genetic profiles. The idea is that two musicians would be paired together, so that their children are likely to be musically talented. Luke and Jade want to be paired with one another, but are scheduled to be matched elsewhere, because of their differing career attributes. Luke must determine whether an inappropriate pairing really occurred, and how, or whether The Authorities are setting him up in some way. The two cases prove to have parallels, though not in any obvious fashion.
I found the whole pairing thing downright horrifying, though in an intriguing sort of way. (I have a real fondness for dystopian stories.) I couldn't help but wonder what happens to gays in this society, though this question was not touched upon in this book. In general, the future society explored in this series is pretty grim. People are watched all the time. Forensic investigators have nearly limitless powers - people always have to let the investigators into their homes, give them fingerprints and other samples, etc. Everyone carries a smart card that tracks their whereabouts and any transportation they might use. And here's the creepiest part:
In the North, everyone's state of health was monitored each time they used a toilet. Samples were taken automatically from smart toilets and then analyzed. If a chemical indicative of disease was found, the person would be called to a clinic immediately.
Scary! Overall, Double Check has a dark aura. Despite, or perhaps because of, his powerful position as an investigator, Luke leads a lonely life, with little human contact. Some of the forensic details of the things that he investigates are pretty graphic, too (dead bodies, burned plane crash victims, etc.). This is mitigated by the fact that in most cases what he sees is a virtual reality reproduction a crime scene, rather than seeing the real aftermath. I can see middle school kids finding the forensic investigation and the futuristic detail fascinating. (In fact, I know of a middle school in Texas that has Forensic Investigation as an elective, and it's quite popular).
Fortunately, there is some humor injected into the story, via Luke's interactions with Malc. Malc takes everything literally, and isn't familiar with any colloquialisms until he is explicitly programmed to understand them. Thus resulting in exchanges like this:
Luke said, "If the members of the committee find out that they're being investigated, they're not going to fall into my trap. They'd be on their best behavior till I clear them. So I can't interview them without letting on that I'm on their tails."
"Human beings do not possess..."
Luke sighed. "'On their tails' means chasing them. Enter it into the dictionary."
Although I haven't read the previous books in the series, Double Check stands on its own for the most part (I'd kind of like to know how Luke met Jade, and how he got chosen to be a Forensic Investigator at such a young age, but these things don't impede the current story in any way). The author is a chemistry professor, and the details feel true. The plotting is well done, and will make kids think. I would expect this series to be a hit with middle school and early high school kids, especially boys, and also with fans of any age who like CSI or dystopian fiction. The first book in the series is Framed.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.