"Conscience of the Beagle" - Book Review

I'd previously read Anthony's Cold Allies and Brother Termite. Cold Allies left me with an abiding respect for her: here was someone who said "if we ever meet aliens, we would NOT understand them" - an argument I'd been making for years (given our inability to understand the people on the other side of the planet), and she wrote a good book based on that premise. Brother Termite is her best known book, but I didn't like it much. But when Conscience of the Beagle showed up at the library's discount store, I thought that an SF noir police drama sounded like a good thing.

The book is told entirely from the point of view of Major Dyle Holloway, who's just been assigned a job on the planet Tennyson. He and his team of three others are sent there to figure out who's been planting bombs and killing the populace. One of his teammates is a construct of Hoad Taylor - a human-looking reconstruction of the person Hoad Taylor used to be. "Beagle," as Dyle refers to him, was the best investigator the Earth had ever had.

But Dyle is barely clinging to his sanity: the book is staccato stream-of-consciousness in Dyle's mind, essentially SF William Faulkner. Dyle is incredibly paranoid, forgetful, and depressed, a stumbling wreck of a man ever since the death of his wife a year and a half previously. Prior to his wife's death, he'd solved some of Earth's biggest mysteries, but now it's clear that he should be in a psych ward rather than on a case. Even barely functional, Dyle is still a surprisingly effective investigator. I think Anthony wants us to think he's operating "on instinct," but since he has trouble remembering anything and is staggeringly paranoid and afraid of what's around every corner, I didn't think he'd be able to operate even as well as he did.

Anthony has a propensity for unsympathetic main characters. This is a personal preference I've mentioned many times before: I prefer my protagonists sympathetic. The end result is that I think it's a passable book ... but I didn't like it much.