I’m always up for a good murder mystery, especially ones solved by the clever amateurs of the world like Jessica Fletcher and Jane Marple. There’s plenty of room for asking why murder seems to follow those and other lay detectives around, and Mur Lafferty answers it for the heroine of her latest book, Station Eternity.
Murder follows Mallory Viridian. Beginning in childhood, people around her tend to die in lots of brutal ways, and Mallory can’t stop the murders, just solve them after the fact. She thinks she’s found reprieve at last when she takes refuge on Station Eternity, a sentient space station that has until recently barred humans from coming aboard. Even now, the human population is limited to Mallory; the uptight ambassador Adrian Casserly-Berry; and Xan Morgan, a former classmate of Mallory’s who was conveniently abducted and now works as a shuttle pilot. Mallory feels far more comfortable surrounded by aliens, such as the sentient swarms of wasps that pay her to gather data about her or the rock-like Gneiss, than other humans who could murder each other at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, Station Eternity doesn’t agree, and allows a shuttle of humans to visit.
Before the shuttle can arrive, Mallory’s worst fears come true. The alien who has a symbiotic relationship with Station Eternity is killed and the shuttle is attacked in the chaos that follows. As Mallory and Xan work to recover the bodies and treat the survivors, station security puts them in charge of finding out what happened aboard the shuttle. Between the investigation and twisting backstory, the odd connections between seemingly unrelated passengers becomes clearer, and Mallory realizes even running to distant space isn’t enough to escape the deaths that follow her. Meanwhile, drama that has been bubbling in the communities of other species boils over amidst the turmoil, sending Station Eternity into chaos.
As a detective, Mallory is more traumatized than hard-boiled, and chapters from other characters’ points of view are often necessary to get a fuller picture of who she is as our main character. That’s true of all the players here, though, who get a chance to tell their own story—and then have details corrected or added by those around them. There is a comedic edge to the murder and investigation, giving this space adventure a bit of Douglas Adams flair.
There’s no way around the complexity that is the plot of Station Eternity, especially given the running theme of the story that unexpected connections. The humans are all connected in various ways, but even the aliens have their own unexpected connections, as well. For the most part, Lafferty unspools the present action and backstory slowly and methodically, keeping the threads of the story from getting tangled. I found myself being sucked into the increasingly bizarre connections between seemingly unrelated people, and many of my guesses were eventually rewarded. The idea of six degrees of separation has nothing on the ways happenstance can form bonds between individuals.
In the penultimate act, things do get a bit messy, particularly when the alien chaos comes into play. People and places and things tend to get scrambled as plot points whip themselves into place for the finale, which does, improbably, end with something resembling tidiness. Up to that point, things felt so careful and deliberate; at that point, it seemed like a scramble, a race to the finish, and I almost needed to take notes to keep up with the rapid changes. In the end, there are a few loose ends I’m sure Lafferty will use as fodder for future installments of this new series.
Overall, Station Eternity is a fun, if sometimes frenetic, read that successfully and satisfyingly mashes together science fiction and a whodunnit.