“Missing on Orbital 4” by Cory Wilcox

This book has all the requisite elements of both a Noir Detective Novel and a Space Opera. We have a former cop turned private investigator, trying to make a living with his wits. Because of the nature of the game, he plays both sides, having friends in the police and administration as well as contacts in the Mob. His faithful secretary is an updated, barely-artificial intelligence with a great personality. Last and best, his girlfriend is a beautiful financial nerd who does the books  (in several senses) for the local mob.

This all takes place in a 400-year-old space station in low-earth orbit. It’s sort of like the small town setting of many Detective novels. Everybody knows everybody else, and the Mob has an understanding that as long as they stick to their traditional sins they will be tolerated.

The real conflict is against the extraterrestrial corporations that are doing their usual rape and pillage on the natural resources of the whole solar system. And one source is in short supply: labour. So the true evil in this story is human trafficking, a topic more likely to attract the sympathies of readers than simple old mob activities like prostitution, usury and gambling.

I found myself really drawn into the conflict. It was smoothly done, with just the right characters doing just the right things (like getting killed) to make me care. The detective’s inner conflict about cosying up to organized crime is mirrored in his love conflict because of his girlfriend’s occupation. The external conflict is what you’d expect, but a tad above average in violence. The hidden enemy has no compunction about killing rooms full of people (although we don’t see the mayhem, just the result), and the ending builds beautifully with some great action. Spoiler alert: if you’re claustrophobic, there’s one section you want to flip through rather quickly.

All that aside, the story rolls along nicely, with the clues dropped on us regularly at the same time as the good guys get them. The villain leaves a complicated trail, carefully thought out and believable.

The only drawback is some rather convoluted sentence structure in the version I was sent. I hope this is fixed before publication.

In total, a very entertaining read. Recommended for Sci-Fi and Detective fans.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

This review was originally published on Reedsy Discovery

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