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The Radon File
Denise Vitola
Ace Books, 294 pages


Cliff Nielsen
The Radon File
Denise Vitola
Denise Vitola's novels include Half-Light (1992), The Winter Man (1995), Quantum Moon (1996), Opalite Moon (1997), Manjinn Moon (1998) and The Red Sky File (1999).

Denise Vitola Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site: The Red Sky File
SF Site: Opalite Moon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

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Adventure SF readers who also enjoy tough PI/rogue-cop mystery novels with very short, fast-paced chapters are the target audience here, no question about it. In Vitola's gritty mid-21st century setting, minor crimes like robbery and lying take a back seat to the evil underpinnings of serious government corruption. The science fictional setting is dark, dirty, and urban, a place where the idealistic policies of a naïve world leader named Duvalier have led to crumbling infrastructure and a legal system which has more to fight inside than out on the streets.

Marshals Ty Merrick and her charm-bedecked partner Andy LaRue are the buddy-cops who must stand against injustice in this world gone bad. The novel opens with the two having flunked their annual mental health review -- an obvious sign that they've stepped on too many toes in high places by flaunting their magical resources. After all, in this world where superstition has largely replaced science, and Ty continually bedeviled with annoying (and painful) bouts of lycanthropy, why should it matter if cops use supernatural as well as book methods to bring crooks to justice?

Their supervisor gives them one chance to keep their jobs: find the killer of opera singer Bernard Horn, who died when someone drained all the cerebral-spinal fluid from his body while Horn was a patient at the Planetary Health Organization (PHO) Rejuvenation Facility based in an old mine. Just to make things interesting, Ty and LaRue must share the investigation with a close-mouthed team from the Environmental Tax Agency (ETA). Tax goons -- the very last people you want around when you're talking about things the government doesn't sanction, like dealings with the supernatural.

Illustrating just how far Vitola's world has come from scientific literacy, the mine's high levels of naturally occurring radon gas are thought to be a general cure-all for conditions such as Horn's severe rheumatoid arthritis. The nurse who attended Horn is missing, as is an orderly who also worked that ward. Compounding matters are the stories which people the mine's depths with either space aliens or little people form the centre of the earth. Although Ty and LaRue may consult the occasional Tarot reader or herbalist, neither one is willing to give much credence to these specious rumours.

But if something is really going on inside a PHO facility, it's obvious something is rotten in high places somewhere... very likely something to do with the officially illegal "Spark of Creation Movement." The Sparkers have secret cells everywhere, it seems, and all are bent toward dumping the current troubled government for something in their own image. Their propaganda talks about special disciplines and agents which can ignite creative forces in everyone and better their lives -- if only people will submit to them.

Soon enough, possible links between Bernard Horn and the Sparkers turn up, implicating others along the way. An epidemic of alien abductions and missing children also figures into the scheme somehow. The closer Ty and LaRue get to the truth, however, the more the enemy is determined to stop them, permanently.

If you're looking for a fast-paced adventure story with lots of local colour and intrigue, you won't go wrong with Vitola's latest. One caveat, however: the heavily noir conclusion doesn't allow for any wrapping up of loose ends, and leaves you with an apparent cliffhanger into the next novel. Be prepared.

Copyright © 2000 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.


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