The Spare Man

Hardcover, 368 pages

English language

Published Oct. 11, 2022 by Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom.

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4 stars (10 reviews)

Hugo, Locus, and Nebula-Award winner Mary Robinette Kowal blends her no-nonsense approach to life in space with her talent for creating glittering high-society in this stylish SF mystery, The Spare Man.

Tesla Crane, a brilliant inventor and an heiress, is on her honeymoon on an interplanetary space liner, cruising between the Moon and Mars. She's traveling incognito and is reveling in her anonymity. Then someone is murdered and the festering chowderheads who run security have the audacity to arrest her spouse. Armed with banter, martinis and her small service dog, Tesla is determined to solve the crime so that the newlyweds can get back to canoodling--and keep the real killer from striking again.

5 editions

A page turner

4 stars

The premise - a murder mystery set on a space cruise ship - sounded intriguing and like a nice vacation read. It proved to be a real page turner which I rushed through in 3 days. It's written in a very entertaining way, with plenty of interesting, mysterious or quirky characters. I also liked how well various pronouns and the custom of stating them were weaved into the narrative. The cocktails to set the theme for each chapter were a fun idea, too. The conclusion was a bit off and I think wouldn't hold up to scrutiny but on the other hand, it wasn't predictable.

Entertaining SF mystery

No rating

I liked the idea of this book, as a kind of spacefaring Golden Age murder mystery with (literally or metaphorically) champagne receptions, glittering society and so on. There were interesting themes around (ab)uses of power and influence. It was fun trying to guess everyone’s secrets.

I wasn’t quite so taken with the execution, unfortunately. I never really warmed to any of the characters. Tesla’s use of wealth and status to push for whatever she was after at the time felt like an overused bludgeon. And cute doggies are all very well, but Gimlet felt like a Magical Cute Doggie—again, repetitive in use and outcome.

Overall, an entertaining mystery if a bit light on interpersonal nuance for my tastes.

Well now I'm thirsty

4 stars

This was a lot of fun. Good twists, good reveals, and an interesting cast. There are a few things I would like to have spelled out for me, but I expect most of them are things I could theoretically understand on a reread. And I want to try some of those cocktails. Especially if I can get ahold of some Lunacy gin. ("They don't export it!")

Thoroughly engrossing, loved it

5 stars

I've never read Dashiell Hammett's "The Thin Man", but if that's a grounded precursor to this spacefaring mystery I should! This was a fun sci-fi/noir/mystery romp with great characters (and excellent dog representation).

Early on I was noticing all the accessibility/inclusion bits more than the story itself, which certainly prompts some self-reflection. There's a certain obvious silliness in accepting an interplanetary honeymoon cruise without missing a beat, but tripping over gender-neutral titles.

Once I settled into the story I was fully engaged and could not stop reading (mostly listening actually - the narration is top notch as usual from the author).

I'm looking forward to the upcoming/teased episode of the Writing Excuses podcast in which Mary Robinette will take us deeper into this book.

Fantine is my hero. I want a cup of tea with her and Avasarala from the Expanse series.

A stand-alone in her alternate universe

5 stars

This was relatively fun light reading in the same alternate timeline where an astroid hits Earth right after WW2 and we immediately make the jump to space. We get rich heiresses, famous detectives, a ship traveling between Earth and Mars as a “locked room” and of course, plenty of murder and drama. It’s a Murder on the Orient Express/Death on the Nile in space kind of setup. Strong female lead, weird alternate technology that almost feels like Niven from the 1970’s, it’s all good fun!

I will be honest, I always end up reading Kowal’s stuff to see what crazy things she’s dreamed up for her alternate timeline more than because I absolutely love her writing. She still does far too much “inner voice of struggle” exposition, IMHO. But even with that, her vision of the future is also so fun that I always enjoy myself in spite if it. …

Review of 'The Spare Man' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

Ahh, this was lovely. The bones of this are Agatha Christie, its a locked room mystery on an interstellar cruise liner. The twist is that it is structured like Hammet's the Thin Man and uses that as the character templates for the protagonists.
It sailed along with brim and vigor and no small amount of wit. A vastly entertaining romp with some science fictional elements. Given this is Kowal, the space and speculative tech elements are spot on as well.
It wasn't 5 stars for me because I felt some plot elements didn't come together at the end but that's probably more a me thing. I inhaled this in like 2 sittings while away for the weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Definite recommend.

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