The Substitute Sleuth by Michael R. Underwood

The Substitute SleuthThe Substitute Sleuth

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #4

eARC, 88 pg.
2016

Read: July 11, 2016

Adventure, excitement, hypothermia. All of this and more await you in the Genrenauts!

Once again, Leah Tang is having a rough time on her first visit to a genre world. It’s Chicago, there’s a snow storm, her primary partner on this particular mission is getting a bit too wrapped up in the story, and she had to see her second dead body (not that such a sight is ever pleasant, but this one is well, is fit for the opening scenes of Castle, Bones, etc.). Thankfully, her sense of humor isn’t only welcome on this mission, it’s required.

It all starts when poor Leah has to wake up early, summoned for a mission to patch a small story breach on Crime World — the Police Procedural region to be precise. King’s going to let her take the lead on it as a training exercise. And then things go wrong. Because, well, that’s just how things are going for this team lately — and the one story breach they came to Crime World to patch is overshadowed by a bigger one. Crime World breaches left unpatched bleed over into our world in the form more, and worse, crimes. Every bleed from a Genre World into ours sounds bad — but this one is worse. Leah is still having qualms about the ethics involved in what her team does, but given the stakes, she’s willing to put them aside.

Probably more than in the previous adventures, Leah and King lean on and exploit the tropes of this world and region. As a fan of the Whacky Investigator/Straight-Laced Law Officer partner stories/shows, I loved watching the two of them use, critique, and play with the story beats, types and clichés. White Hat hacking, convenient recovery periods after being shot, how clues show up at just the right time, and so on. At one point, Leah sees a pair of detectives that work in the precinct with the detective at the center of the breach:

Leah took them to be the friend cops, the other team that would work another part of a case—the cases that would all too often end up being related, thanks to the laws of narrative conservation.

I love that phrase “laws of narrative conservation,” I am stealing that, period. I talk about that phenomenon all the time here, and this phrase is going to save me so much typing.

Between this and the Max novella, we’re learning a good deal about Angstrom King — I think I’m getting a really good sense of him, and I’m liking him more than I expected. Leah is pretty much Leah, just a little more confident in her place and moving onward from where she’s been so far in the series. The rest of the team faded to the background to an extent that I found surprising, and I hope it’s not a sign of things to come. I’m pretty sure it’s not, Underwood wouldn’t have spent so much time establishing the team and characters if he was going to drop them. Everyone was present, but their roles were very diminished. Mallery’s got a bit more to do than the others, but really not much.

The closing pages of this do a great job of setting-up the two-part season finale in the next two novellas. I can’t say more than that — but how any fan of this series can be patient waiting to see what comes next is a greater mystery than the ones the team encounters on Crime World. Best of the bunch.

N.B.: As this was an ARC, there’s a chance that the quotations above might not be in the published version, I’ll try to confirm them as soon as I can.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of novella from the author in exchange for this post–thanks, Mr. Underwood!

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4 1/2 Stars

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