Clean is the first installment in the MINDSPACE INVESTIGATIONS series by Alex Hughes. It’s sort of a mix of police procedural, mystery, urban fantasy and science fiction.
Set sometime in a distance future, humans have become wary of artificial intelligence and the telepathic abilities of the people who saved humanity from the sentient computers during an event now known as the Tech Wars. Some people still have internet interfaces implanted in their brains, but most of their fellow humans regard them with disdain and are ready to revert to pre-internet forms of technology.
Clean takes us into the day to day life of a telepath who’s just trying to get by. Adam works for the DeKalb County Police Department in the Atlanta area where he assists the Homicide Department with their investigations and interrogations. A serial killer is on the loose and police detective Isabella Cherabino is under a lot of pressure to solve the crime. She needs Adam’s unique skills as a telepath — he can pick up mental residues at crime scenes and can get into the minds of suspects during interrogations. Adam’s connections with the Guild, the organization/union of all “talented” people who have achieved a functional level of performance with their mental abilities, makes him even more important when the investigation points to someone with powers beyond a mere human.
But Adam is an addict and his long-term abuse of the drug Satin has cast a permanent pall over everything he does. Some of his colleagues trust him, and some don’t. Adam is almost an anti-hero — he wants to do the right thing, but his addiction rules him, especially when he’s under a lot of pressure with his job. The craving for Satin and the constant focus on his addiction are an ever-present issue. Alex Hughes’ focus on Adam’s disease becomes almost tedious, but it’s so very raw and real that it makes Adam very believable. I loved the fact that his craving or need for the drug was a constant thorn in his side. Adam’s positive and negative experiences while working his addiction management process gives us a very compelling glimpse into the constant struggle that an addict faces.
In Clean, Alex Hughes incorporates very real human weaknesses into a compelling story. The sense of responsibility and loss that Adam bears, coupled with his need for personal connections and to be trusted, make for some intense moments. I loved Adam’s desire to be a better man and how the relationships that he has with other people, both positive and negative, seem very real. Hughes also weaves other strong emotional themes into the story; the need for revenge and feelings of depression and loss add depth to characters and their motivations.
There is room for improvement in Clean. I hope that future installments will tell us more about the dichotomy of a culture that is scientifically advanced, but completely averse to all forms of artificial intelligence. Alex Hughes writes good characters and Clean has a nice story that should please science fiction and mystery fans alike. I look forward to reading more from this new author.