The world of cop ghosts goes global in this wildly ambitious action-packed sequel
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The Dying Squad, last year’s predecessor to the Generation Killer, was an odd beast, but in a really good way, like a tiger had mated with an eagle to produce a killer cat with wings. On the one hand we had a captivating, emotionally intense, twisty police procedural with a twist: the cops were dead and they were investigating their own murder. On the other hand, we had a surreal, Dali-esque vision of purgatory in which a seeming revolution was slowly occurring, full of apocalyptic brio and throwing-everything-at the wall-and-seeing-what-sticks verve (reader: it did stick). The brutal noir of the former contrasted weirdly with the surrealism of the latter, but it worked and left a brilliantly original piece of fiction in its wake.
With the Generation Killer, Adam Simcox’s boldly ambitious sequel, his Aliens to Alien if you like, the sharp contrast dual narrative approach has been abandoned in favour of a three-track story that ultimately connects together on a wildly grand scale, expanding the world he’s created and then some. In case anyone was in doubt whether he had a plan, this kicks said doubts off a mile-high skyscraper. The operatic scale of this book and the potpourri of plot, worldbuilding, characters, and crazy actions scenes tread that fine line between over-the-top and wickedly enjoyable, coming out firmly in favour of the latter.
In one plot thread, Daisy, supernatural cop protégé turned ruler of Purgatory, must investigate the newly built civilisation that followed her liberation of the “dispossessed” (those in Purgatory) and uncover a plot involving children being kidnapped. These scenes are wildly imaginative, and will remind fantasy readers in some ways of Terry Pratchett’s Ankh Morpork (a city on the verge of great change). In another thread, her former partner Joe Lazarus must investigate a serial killer, the eponymous Generation Killer, who is haunting the alleyways and byways of Manchester. In a third thread, psychotic former resident of Hell Hanna is now on Earth building an undead army, and her sister and previous ruler of Purgatory the Duchess must uncover and foil her plans. Behind all these threads, something big is brewing.
As that insufficient plot summary suggests, it’s a heady brew we have in this one. I’ve already mentioned Aliens so let’s throw in more suspect film analogies: this is Scream 2 to Scream 1 (i.e. a whole new set of rules) Godfather 2 to Godfather 1, Goldfinger to From Russia with Love… Basically it’s big and it’s messy and if you don’t keep up then you’ll fall behind. All the previous rules about the dead and the living so carefully introduced in the first one are blown apart here one by one; Simcox introduces new lore and new discoveries almost on a page-to-page basis. At times, it’s almost overwhelming, but it works (just) because the writing is so good and the story is …. I mean it’s ridiculously fun. It’s like a bond film at times; there’s a speedboat chase (but not as you know it), a samurai battle (but not as you know it), and a timely over-the-top rescue from a villain’s lair (but definitely not as you know it).
Amidst all this grand worldbuilding and breathy action, Simcox doesn’t forget to slow down and take stock. The gut-wrenching emotion and pitch perfect poignancy that gave the first one such depth is on display here. There’s a scene between a character and his grandfather that will destroy – I mean really do a number on – anyone who misses their own grandfather, and the deaths when they come are handled in the same masterful way as the first. One of Simcox’s gifts is to keep everything grounded amidst the afterlife absurdity – his dialogue is the kind you’d expect on a kitchen sink British drama and it makes the characters real, so the emotional beats when they hit hit hard despite the bizarre settings they occur in. It’s a hard tone to pull off, but Simcox once again nails it.
It's funny, too. There’s a Pratchett level of humour in a purgatory courtroom scene which shows the problems of possessing anything in the afterlife. This is a funny book all the way through, and one full of gloriously surreal images: if the idea of the semi-amnesiac undead getting their groove on in an abandoned Manchester club is your thing, then boy is this the book for you. Speaking of Manchester, in this sequel Simcox proves himself a master of setting; absolutely nailing the poignant former heritage of this city; we’re taken on a tour of all its old proud haunts, now gone or transformed into glossy commercialism. As a native myself of this majestic city, this felt bang on.
The grimy haunts of old-school Manchester are contrasted in the Hanna plotline with the gleaming, technologically brazen skylines of Tokyo, and makes it as surreal as I imagine it is to visit; like God has accidentally dumped a future city in our timeline. In a book like this full of supernatural antics, a grounded setting is all the more important to keep the reader anchored; with these strange tours of two different cities, Simcox shows he gets this and then some.
Sometimes the jumping between plotlines did make me miss the more intense focus on one storyline – there’s nothing in here that quite replicates the intense, addictively unpredictable buddy cop relationship between Daisy and Joe of the first one, although Mancunian ex-junkie Bits is a decent partner replacement for Joe – but that aside, it is kind of stunning how Simcox has expanded his world so ambitiously without sacrificing all the things that made the first one great – tone, dialogue, emotion, twists, etc. It could have been a mess, but it’s grand opera coated in Manchester grime and British cop wit, and it’s unrelenting fun from start to finish with an emotional punch you won’t see coming. If this is what Simcox does with a sequel, I’m genuinely scared to see how he closes out a trilogy. Better than Alien 3, I’d wager.