Welcome, one and all, to another MDM Projects book review. Today I’m throwing myself headlong into K.J. Heritage’s sci-fi mystery novel, Vatic. By way of disclosure, this was a book that I bought myself.
Background: Residing in Brighton in the UK, K.J. Heritage primarily writes action and adventure based sci-fi, mystery, and epic fantasy novels, all with the odd dash of humour thrown in.
Vatic, the titular character of this particular book, is in a spot of bother. You see, a top scientist named Chen Jelinek has committed suicide, and Vatic has been sent in to get to the truth of the matter. The problem? Vatic is half-dead, has little memory of who or what he is, and has been told that if he doesn’t solve the case within six hours, he’ll die. As he works his way through the denizens of an intergalactic research centre, things just get more and more complicated …
The Good: Sitting comfortably at 258 pages, Vatic is quite a quick read. That being the case, there was always going to be the inherent risk that there simply wasn’t enough space to fit the details of the mystery in in a satisfactory manner. As it happens though, this isn’t the case here. What Heritage has done is to take the approach of letting the story show us what we need without any dross to pad it out. Each chapter is integral in pushing things forward, whether that be by dropping hints about the mystery, or by giving us some background on our hero, Vatic. Streamlining the book in this way ensures that we get the most out of the tale without unnecessary distractions. Oh, and in terms of the mystery itself, while it could be argued that certain points were easy enough to figure out, the conclusion of the case offers a nice little twist that many likely won’t see coming.
Character-wise, Vatic and co are rounded enough to be interesting. The various researchers that we encounter each have their own quirks and foibles, not to mention their own brand of bad attitudes and paranoia, so you don’t tend to get bored when reading about them. Meanwhile, Vatic himself is fairly straight forward in attitude, but his skills and past add enough layers to keep your attention. I enjoyed the general concept of the Skilled too, and would love to see more about them in future books.
In all, the writing is smooth, the book is well paced, and there’s plenty here to enjoy if you have a preference for sci-fi or mystery. In a way, it reminds a little of Richard Morgan’s hardboiled cyberpunk series about Takeshi Lev Kovacs, which is no bad thing.
The Bad: This is all going to come down to taste, but I could see some readers being put off by Vatic himself. While I enjoyed his grumpy demeanour, he’s not a character that’s well suited to those who want a more upbeat, clean-cut hero. He has a job to do, and he’s going to do it. He’s not one for taking the moral high ground, he just does what he needs to. I’d also say that the romantic-ish subplot was probably the weakest part of the book, but again, that comes down to personal taste more than anything. It doesn’t detract from the story or leave you feeling derailed, so it’s not a major issue by any means.
Final View: Vatic serves up a hefty dose of action, intrigue and verbal jousting that draws you in, throws a few curve balls at you, and leaves you eagerly anticipating the finale. It’s a fun read that is well worth picking up, especially if you like your crime to have a sci-fi setting.
Final Score: 4.5 / 5