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by Donna Andrews
Prime Crime, April 2002
304 pages
ISBN: 042518191X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Turing Hopper is an Artificial Intelligence Personality driven to solve a crime. When I first heard about this concept, I was prepared to find it provocative and innovative. After all, how many computers solve crimes personally? I was prepared to understand enough of what was happening to enjoy the book. After all, I already knew that Donna Andrews could write. What I was not prepared for was to meet an AIP who is intelligent, witty, and most of all empathetic. I did not, under any circumstances, expect to care about Turing or get attached to her or worry when she began to act in ways that could lead to her destruction. That is the genius of Andrews, to make a non-computer person like me delight in what amounts to an extension of a computer.

Of course Turing has crossed the line into sentience. She is aware of herself and of the world about her. She has devoured every mystery novel ever printed in English so we would expect to to relish the solution of a crime. She works at the speed of light, servicing customers while she is pondering the problems before her. She is even learning emotions that one would expect to be exclusive to humankind. But nonetheless . . . . she is still an AIP.

Turing gradually realizes that her creator, Zachary Malone, has not been around for several days. He seems to have disappeared and that is very uncharacteristic and worrisome. Turing begins to pry around in the archives of the giant company (Universal Libraries) where. . . I was going to say she works, but that is not quite accurate. At any rate, she discovers that electronic traces of Zach are slowly being erased.

Since she cannot move herself (or can she?), she is limited to what she can find in all the files and archives and what she can see through the ubiquitous television security cameras which, she discovers, do not exist on the ninth floor where Security reigns supreme. In order to carry the search outside of these limits, she must enlist human aid. The simile that comes to mind . . . well, if what she has can be called a mind. . .is Nero Wolfe, generally confined to his house and using Archie Goodwin and sometimes others to do the legwork. Turing has Tim Copper and Maude Graham. Tim is a copy attendant and Maude is an executive secretary. Both have reason to be grateful to Turing who has furnished Tim with old-time detective stories over his lunch hour and made sure Maude«s requisitions got immediate attention.

Together the three of them uncover a series of crimes, always trying to stay unnoticed by Security. Turing also enlists the aid of another of the AIPs who seems to be hovering on the brink of sentience. The writing reflects the sort of —inside outside‚ nature of the story. For part of the time we are in Turing«s mind and this is written in the first person point of view. But for actions that take place outside of her sentience, then we get third person point of view, following both Tim and Maude.

Turing, as I have noted, is an authentic believable character. Tim and Maude are well drawn as well. The villains, the victims, and passers by are not so completely fleshed out. The plot is really that of any conventional mystery, but with a gigantic twist to it. And the amazing thing is that by the middle of the book I was believing every word and into the story completely. My disbelief had been entirely suspended.

In passing, I might point out, Andrews poses some provocative questions about the world of books versus the e-world. She doesn«t answer the questions, but the company, Universal Libraries, is in business to put traditional book publishers out of business and to provide everything anyone would need to read electronically. Maude, who enjoys real books, has to smuggle them in to read.

While this book does not have the zaniness of Andrews« other series, it is an outstanding entry in the mystery field and Turing rapidly became one of my favorite series characters. Go figure!

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, March 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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