Peter F. Hamilton has a large collection of works published, including the very popular series Night’s Dawn, and the Void trilogy.
In Great North Road, a member of the prominent North family is found murdered, in the same exact manner used as a previous North massacre twenty years prior. Angela Tramelo was convicted and has been in prison ever since–so who could have done it? Angela claimed twenty years ago that an alien monster was responsible, but no one believed her. Could there be a sentient species out there, hell-bent on wiping out the North family? The planet St. Libra, where the original murders took place, is key to the economy of Earth, and any threat is one that must be investigated. The Human Defense Agency launches a massive expedition to St. Libra, with the intention of finding and capturing the monster–that is if Angela Tramelo is telling the truth, and a monster actually exists.
Meanwhile, Detective Sid Hurst is investigating the North murder on Earth, and all the clues point not to a monster, but to a corporate struggle that turned deadly. As his investigation continues, Angela’s story seems less and less likely.
Angela is released from prison to join the St. Libra expedition, since she’s the only one to have survived an attack by the monster, but her every action is scrutinized and questioned. As the expedition searches for the monster, strange accidents begin causing injuries and deaths to their group, until even the planet itself seems to turn against them.
The novel is–first and foremost–a mystery set in a science fictional universe. The world-building is phenomenal, and it’s easy to believe that events on the pages are real, with a rich history behind them. Though long, the author does a nice job of filling in backgrounds, but without providing too much exposition; when used, it’s effective. Each character comes from a background that’s fully-fleshed. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the characters’ current incarnations; they never quite ascend to people we would want to be friends with. There’s some indefinable gap that truly prevents the characters from jumping out of the page, and feeling like they belong. Some may disagree with this assessment, but the characters never wowed me, the way some books have. Still, that’s not to say that Great North Road isn’t a good book, because it is. It’s just not a great book.
The book is long, and not just in sheer page count. At 976 pages, it’s a lengthy story, but it could easily have been told in a more condensed manner. Often times the reader is thrown back in time, to be given another tidbit of the story about one particular character, then returned to the present, where the revelations reveal just a little bit more about their motivations or actions. It gets a little tiring, especially as the book starts to reach its climax, only to be thrown back in time with a new revelation. None of the things that are revealed are cheap, or unnecessary, but the back-and-forth over a book of this length is wearying.
Even though it’s long, Hamilton does a good job of keeping readers interested. The pacing of the story is good, if methodical, and the end result, and resolution to the mystery is at least well-executed, if just a tad too far-fetched to have been worth the mystery to begin with.
For fans of a good mystery, Great North Road can be recommended, but for most casual readers, it’s probably not for you.
Reviewed by Bradley K. Brown