THE PUPPET MASTER
by John Dalmas
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Although packaged by Baen as a novel, The Puppet Master is actually three interconnected stories, only one of which has appeared previously. "A Most Singular Murder," the opening novella, sets Dalmas's vision for a future Los Angeles in which cars are propelled by gravity and actual psychics are a dime a dozen. In the novel "The Puppet Master," which follows, Dalmas further explores this world through the eyes of his Finnish investigator, Martti Seppanen, when he is called on the solve the disappearance of the founder of a popular cult. Finally, the novelette "The Case of the Duplicate Beauties" is built out of a seemingly throw-away passage in "The Puppet Master" to provide an ending for these installments in Martti Seppanen's investigations.
"A Most Singular Murder" introduces Dalmas's primary characters, Martti Seppanen, the investigators he works with and his psychic girlfriend, Tuuli. As much as it is a police procedural, "A Most Singular Murder" also introduces a world in which psychics have a tendency to be right. Seppanen is hired to investigate the background of Arthur Ashkenazi, an astronomer who shocked the world by claiming that there was a scientific basis for astrology. It is a tribute to Dalmas's world-building and writing skills that despite the science fictional solution to the eventual murder Seppanen must solve, the reader has all the clues to figure out the denouement ahead of Seppanen's explanation.
The second story in the collection, a story which is a novel in its own right, "The Puppet Master" forces Seppanen into an investigation of one of the major new cults/churches in Los Angeles, the Church of the New Gnosis. Modeled on many of the secretive money making cults of the real world, the New Gnus have the added benefit of living in a world where parapsychology is an accepted phenomenon. Not only does Seppanen's investigation take unexpected twists and leave a wake of bodies, but it introduces him to a variety of psychics and other informers who will continue to be useful. Dalmas is also careful to have Seppanen know the limits of what his job is. Whatever he may personally feel about the New Gnus, he has a specific task to complete and focuses his attention on it. For all that the New Gnus may be corrupt, that has no bearing on his job to find out what happened to the Church's founder.
The final novelette, "The Case of the Duplicate Beauties" further introduces new technology which Dalmas has introduced and then twisted to use in an unexpected manner. Seppanen is brought into this case after several actresses collapsed with the flood of memories they know were real, but have not experienced. Due, perhaps, to its shorter length, "The Case of the Duplicate Beauties" is not as satisfying as the two earlier stories. Nevertheless, it adds more depth to both Seppanen and the world which he inhabits.
Dalmas has created both a world and a detective which can be used frequently to explore more crimes in his slightly futuristic, but very different version of Los Angeles. His characters are interesting and likeable, from Seppanen and the psychics he frequently consults to his clients and the characters who are incidental to the places he hangs out. Although his mysteries can be solves by the readers, they include enough twists and turns to cause a few different scenarios to be considered, but resulting in a satisfying puzzle.
A Most Singular Murder The Puppet Master The Case of the Duplicate Beauties
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