Book Review: Red Cells by Jeffrey Thomas

20493985Title: Red Cells

Author: Jeffrey Thomas

Genre: Dark Fiction, Novella

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 3,5 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Private detective and mutant shapeshifter Jeremy Stake (hero of the novels Deadstock and Blue War) has fallen on hard times in the far-future city of Punktown. When he is offered an opportunity to masquerade as another man to do his prison sentence for him, Stake agrees, but this is a new type of penitentiary—existing in its own pocket universe.

In this isolated prison, a series of gruesome murders have occurred, and the inmates soon force Stake to investigate. Can Stake catch a killer that might not even be human, without becoming just another victim?

In Red Cells, Jeremy Stake is used to strange cases, considering he worked as a private detective. Since he’s a shapeshifter, it’s no problem for him to change into the appearance of one of his clients, and do his time in jail instead. However, keeping up appearances isn’t all that easy – if he stops focusing, he might start slipping into someone else’s skin.

When he signed up for the job, he never expected someone would try to kill him the moment he steps foot inside the prison. A few inmates have been killed in a most gruesome matter, and the inmates are terrified. They turn to Stake to investigate the murders. Stake is reluctant at first, but when he becomes the newest target of the murderer, he has no choice but to get involved.

I loved all the background and setting of this story. Half of the staff are robots. Mutants are common in this world, the transdimensional space surrounding the prison is haunted by ghost-like creatures. The inmates are a colorful bunch – some humanoids, others mutants, and all of them are hardboiled criminals yet they do manage to get pretty terrified when someone is out to get them. Stake is an intriguing character. He’s not easily scared, has a quick mind, but he’s also fast to result the violence, kind of like a hardboiled noir detective stuck in a science fiction world.

So far, so good. And I would’ve really enjoyed this book, if it weren’t for how this reads a like a novel squeezed into a novella. The murder mystery is good, the characters are awesome, the setting is marvellous. But everything is ripped away too soon. The murder mystery isn’t scary because we find out way too soon who is behind it and why. We can never really invest in the large cast of characters because by the time we get to know them, they’re ripped out of the picture. Even connecting with the main character is tough – he’s a too complex character for a novella this size, especially since he shares screen time with all of the other characters.

Too much was going on, and too fast, to really enjoy this book. The culprit behind the murders isn’t even scary because we don’t have time to get scared. It’s like trying to cram a movie into a one-hour TV episode.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but it failed to really grasp my interest. I wished I could’ve felt more invested in the characters, but alas.


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