Addict (The Cassie Tam Files #1) by Matt Doyle
Genre: Sci-Fi/Crime Noir | Diversity: queer Chinese-Canadian MC | My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
New Hopeland was built to be the centre of the technological age, but like everywhere else, it has its dark side. Assassins, drug dealers and crooked businessmen form a vital part of the city’s make-up, and sometimes, the police are in too deep themselves to be effective. But hey, there are always other options …
For P.I. Cassie Tam, business has been slow. So, when she’s hired to investigate the death of a local VR addict named Eddie Redwood, she thinks it’ll be easy money. All she has to do is prove to the deceased’s sister Lori that the local P.D. were right to call it an accidental overdose. The more she digs though, the more things don’t seem to sit right, and soon, Cassie finds herself knee deep in a murder investigation. But that’s just the start of her problems.
When the case forces Cassie to make contact with her drug dealing ex-girlfriend, Charlie Goldman, she’s left with a whole lot of long buried personal issues to deal with. Then there’s her client. Lori Redwood is a Tech Shifter, someone who uses a metal exoskeleton to roleplay as an animal. Cassie isn’t one to judge, but the Tech Shifting community has always left her a bit nervous. That wouldn’t be a problem if Lori wasn’t fast becoming the first person that she’s been genuinely attracted to since splitting with Charlie. Oh, and then there’s the small matter of the police wanting her to back off the case.
Easy money, huh? Yeah, right.
*Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. This in no way shapes my opinion of the book.*
Addict is a cyberpunk/crime noir novel that follows Cassie Tam as she attempts to solve the mystery surrounding Eddie Redwood’s apparent drug overdose. Along the way, she has to confront her ex-girlfriend, Charlie, and comes to realize her growing feelings for her client, Lori, a Tech Shifter who uses an animal exoskeleton to role play as stress relief.
The world-building is spot on.
I’m not generally a sci-fi reader, so I honestly wasn’t expecting to connect with the story as much as I did. One thing Matt Doyle does really well is mixing in aspects of world-building with everything that’s going on, without resorting to info-dumping. We get pieces of the puzzle of Cassie’s world as needed, rather than just a huge chunk of text, which means that the narration doesn’t detract from the main plot line.
I really enjoyed the cyberpunk aspects of the story and the way they reflect on our current reality.
The crime hinges around Eddie Redwood, a Virtual Junkie who’s declared dead from an accidental overdose of stimulants. The concept of VJ Addicts isn’t really that far-fetched when you consider how all of us are pretty much addicted to social media. Combined with Eddie’s sister, Lori, who’s a Tech Shifter—someone who uses an animal exoskeleton to de-stress from life—and this story could easily be a social commentary.
I say that, because Cassie herself has to reframe how she views both Eddie and Lori. In the beginning, Cassie assumes that Eddie really did overdose, that he was hiding his drug usage from his sister. Cassie also has a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes in her head about Tech Shifting. Through her interactions with Lori, Cassie learns to not judge people so much for their hobbies and interests, and not to jump to conclusions about people in general.
Cassie is queer and there’s an f/f romance, but queerness isn’t the focus of the story.
Throughout the story, Cassie’s flirtation with her client, Lori, acts as comic relief to the very serious goings-on in a dark world. Their awkwardness with each other is super cute, as is the tension between Cassie and her ex-girlfriend Charlie. I really appreciated that, while it’s clear that Cassie likes girls, her being queer isn’t the focus of the story. This isn’t a coming-out story, or a romance, but there are elements of queerness that are still relatable.
The crime noir storyline kept me guessing throughout.
Because the crime is woven in with the sci-fi elements, there’s an aspect of mystery that I don’t think even regular crime readers would be able to figure out early. I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice to say that I couldn’t put this book down once I reached the halfway mark. I also appreciated that, while there’s a religious element to the mystery’s resolution, it isn’t pinned down to any one of the three, or treated as fanaticism.
Cassie was such an enjoyable character to read about, and it’s clear that this could easily turn into a longer series. The world of the novel has a lot of potential for exploration, and I look forward to seeing Cassie (and Lori) again.
My only issue is the way the ending came about.
Aside from the mystery (which, again, I’m not going to spoil), there’s a lot that’s left to the last few chapters: namely, the resolution of Cassie’s flirtation with Lori. While I enjoyed that their romance didn’t take the spotlight in the book, there were a lot of aspects of Cassie’s personality that I would’ve rather had earlier. She hints at a family trauma backstory, but it takes until the very end to be revealed. I felt like dragging that out so long detracted a little bit from the resolution of the main plot.
Overall: definitely recommended, particularly for sci-fi readers.
Despite the fact that this is outside my normal genre, I really got into the story. There was plenty of world-building that added to the story rather than distracting from it. Addict is a nice escapist type read, but one that also makes you consider aspects of the real world in a new way. Although Cassie is 27, the story could be read by teens or adults alike. I really admired Cassie’s personality and look forward to hopefully reading more of her stories in the future.
This was the first queer sci-fi I’ve read in a very long time! What are your favorites in that genre? Let’s chat in the comments!