The Noah: a city-sized ship, half-way through an eight-hundred-year voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity must be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened.
It is arguable that The Forever Watch is not a crime novel. If you were going to get hard and fast in genre terms you would sit it on the science fiction shelf in the bookshop. For starters, The Forever Watch is set on a massive spaceship called Noah which is carrying the remnants of humanity fleeing a ravaged Earth on a thousand year journey to a new home. It features a rigid social and political structure and characters with enhanced mental powers. And it toys with plot strands that involve alien contact and artificial intelligence. So far so scifi. But the true heart of this novel, and the driver of at least its first two thirds, is moulded along the lines of a classic procedural/detective story.
The plot revolves around Hana Dempsey, a high level town planner who is drawn into the investigation of a series of bloody murders by her policeman lover Barrens. Barrens is investigating the death of his former mentor who was found ripped apart by a killer that he has nicknamed “Mincemeat”. And it turns out that his mentor is not the only victim. Not only are seemingly random people being killed in the most gruesome way, but it seems that the authorities are doing their best to cover the crimes up. As in all good crime novels, their investigation allows a deep exploration of the world in which Hana and Barrens live as what starts as an attempt to solve a small number of incidents escalates outwards and layers of secrets are exposed. The plot is carefully structured around multiple layers of secrets, some so deep that even thinking about them can be dangerous, and they continue to be revealed right up to the final pages.
In many crime novels, the crime is solved, the mystery is wrapped up and the world moves on. But Ramirez is not satisfied with that and The Forever Watch does something in its final act that crime novels tend to skirt around. Ramirez explores the consequences not only of the keeping of secrets by authorities but what might happens when those secrets start to come to light, particularly in a closed society.
The Forever Watch is first and foremost a fabulous piece of world building. Ramirez manages to successfully juggle a number of science fiction standards and produce something startlingly original. There is very little exposition as Ramirez drops the reader straight into first person present narration of Hana Dempsey. As a result, it takes time to get across all of the nuances of the world of the Noah, but the effort is worth it. And the whole package is made more enticing by the crime elements which drive the reader in and through this world.