Michael Shean returns with his second novel, Bone Wires as he seeks to explore and investigate the world which he so beautifully crafted in his first novel, Shadow of a Dead Star. In this second novel, Shean demonstrates an aptitude and fluidity in being able to explore and dismantle themes and genres in the novel. Bone Wires shifts from an opening as a dark and horrific murder mystery that keeps readers on edge and becoming embroiled, even fascinated, with the sadistic murders in this neo-libertarian world to a novel rooted in the exploration of relationships and the inter-connectedness of different plots. There can be no doubt that this novel shows Shean to be a writer who is prepared to tap into the darkest recesses of the mind to shock audiences with his graphic detail of a world sustained by corporatism and built upon foundations of savagery and ambition.
Bone Wires follows Daniel Gray, a Tier Three Detective with Homicide Solutions, a branch of a public-listed organisation known as Civil Protection, Washington’s police force, as he looks to explore a series of gruesome murders in which the culprit removes the spines of their victim as a “trophy”. Gray is portrayed as vicious and ambitious in his want to reach the next level of corporate success in Homicide Solutions and these murders offer him ample opportunity to become the shining star of Civil Protection. Shean’s depiction of Gray in Bone Wires is harrowing for the recognition that it paints a portrait of society governed by corporate ambition and by individual desire superseding the wider moral questions. Bone Wires follows a trend and pattern set in Shadow of a Dead Star in being character-driven, allowing the reader to connect and explore the inner workings of its principal character as we are thrust into a multi-faceted plot that promises to delight, surprise and shock audiences.
What this novel does so well is to build and craft the world in which the characters are set. There is a loving attention paid to the detail from the corporate structure of Civil Protection to the chemical composition of drugs. That same love and attention is paid to the characters as it is to the world, meaning that readers are engrossed in the novel because of the characters, because of their human nature. Bone Wires excels in its depiction of characters, people who audiences will all recognise as having been part of their lives – the ambitious, the meek, the betrayed, the bully. These are all characters or facets of people that come out in the novel and create a woven tapestry of human emotion that becomes society in and of itself.
Bone Wires is, to me, a novel of two parts. The first part deals with Gray as a Tier Three Detective and his investigation into the murders of seemingly unrelated people but with one connection – their spines having been removed. In this first part, we see Gray as an ambitious and altogether inconsiderate character, someone is bound and tied to the corporate culture as much as he is a product of that culture – the suits, the lifestyle, the personality. His treatment of women is the single redeeming feature as he becomes a real person – someone is driven by the same needs, hungers and desires as most people are. The second part sees Gray as a Tier Four as he discovers that the culture with which he was so besotted with is little more than a web of deception. It explores in more depth the characters which were introduced in what I have described as the first part, characters who come out and shine as people, and not as plot devices to advance Gray as a character. The first part is a murder mystery. The second becomes a fully-fleshed out detective novel.
Even if this is a novel of two parts, Shean excels in demonstrating his prowess with the written word in Bone Wires. We are treated to a luxurious exploration of this world, its characters and the underworld which thrives on the ambiguities of people’s lives and personalities. What Shean does in his novels is to defy the expectations of traditional science-fiction and demonstrates a preparedness to explore different forms of genre from noir to detective fiction. Bone Wires works because it forces the reader to think and challenges the understanding of what is going on in the world. Characters become more real as the novel develops and the ending secures Daniel Gray as a memorable character who goes through a transformation from the ambitious to the noble.
Bone Wires is a free-flowing novel that explores ideas and engages the reader, trapping them in a vice of decadence, violence and plot. It captures the imagination of the reader and asks them questions. Much like the great Sherlock Holmes novels, the ending is as much a resolution of affairs and matters as it is a statement. Bone Wires is both a logical and heart-felt novel that feeds into people’s ideas about what the future might be like, about their own lives and how much we are trapped by own expectations and conventions. Michael Shean, once again, demonstrates a talent for capturing the imagination of his readers and having the courage to build on his inventive and creative world. As a science-fiction novel, it is excellent but where it is exceptional is in its capturing the heart of a world ensnared by corporatism and creating characters motivated by it.