This book was crazy. I got ten pages into it and had to go and do some research so I could see if I was understanding the premise.
I was not.
My initial understanding was that there were two cities, each on different planes of existence, a multi-verse theory or something similar. These cities just happen to be kind of merged together and you could see into one from the other. Seeing across into the other plane was not allowed and you could be arrested or “disappeared” for doing so.
Boy was I wrong, as continued reading showed.
This is a murder mystery story with some really weird quirks. The murder is discovered in Beszel, a city of muted tones (lots of brown) and is not exactly economically stable. Beszel shares its ‘space’ with the city of Ul Qouma, a city of vibrant colors and is on the up economically. Now you might think that the two cities are side by side like a city that was founded before a country was established and now exists in two different countries (examples here.) They are not! The two cities share the same land, same streets and even the same buildings. Some of the areas are “total,” being all the way in one of the two cities, some areas are “crosshatch,” meaning that parts of the street are in Beszel and others are in Ul Qouma.
The investigation is hampered by the city politics. The lead detective does not want to deal with it and tries to get the investigation taken over by their verson of international police called “Breach.” Breach take advantage of the mental conditioning that is at work in the cities. Since it is against the law for a citizen of Beszel to “see” across the boarder into Ul Qouma (and vice versa) the cities needed an entity to enforce things that tend to cross the boarders. Traffic accidents, tourists and vandalism. for example. could all happen in one city and effect the other.
Said politics keeps the case in Beszel hands and our hero must cross boarders and work with a detective from Ul Qouma. To be able to enter Ul Qouma our hero must undergo psychological conditioning in order to change the conditioning he has as a citizen of Beszel. We all have times when we choose not to “see” things. Ugly buildings, the homeless, people in distress or people arguing in the street. In the cities the citizens are trained not to “see” the other city. To move to the other city you must alter your perceptions. “Seeing” the city you are not in is against the law and Breach will be called in to deal with you.
In the end the killer is found and punished. Our hero is not able to return to his way of life in Beszel. To much has happened to him and his point of view will never be the same. He joins Breach as a detective and helps keep the piece between the two cities.
This is a gross over simplification of the story. There was so much going on. Conspiracies, counter conspiracies, international politics, missing people, more murder, archeology and two very crazy city layouts.
It is really a great story and I recommend this for anyone who wants a book that has lots of energy.