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by Paul Johnston
Minotaur Books, March 2001
391 pages
ISBN: 0312273118

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It is the summer of 2025, the time of the "Big Heat" in Edinburgh. The new guardians have loosened some the severe restrictions on the citizens of the independent city, but water and electricity, and everything else, are severely rationed. The weekly lottery is the only bright spot in the drab lives of the people, who mostly work for the year-round festival run for tourists, the major source of income for the city.

A lottery winner has gone missing, and Quint Dalrymple, the dismissed auxiliary is called in to try and find him. Shortly thereafter, a body is found face down in the puddle still called the Water of Leith. The autopsy shows that he died of nicotine poisoning which can be traced to the bottle of whisky called Ultimate Usquebaugh, found a short distance away. The body is not that of the missing lottery winner but the next body that turns up is, and Quint and his Guard friend, Davie, must find out what happened before panic overcomes the tourists.

Johnston's carefully realized city, with its landmarks turned into barracks for the auxiliaries, repositories for records, storehouses, and it's entertainment, bars, houses of prostitution, marijuana joints, strictly for tourists, is a dystopian vision of the near future. Global warming has made summers unbearable, even as far north as Edinburgh, everything is rationed for the citizens but available for tourists. Bits and pieces of Quint's history come out, but this is a series that should surely be read from the beginning if only to marvel at the way Johnston causes his initial premise to evolve, while keeping the cast of characters reasonably stable. And by the way, the title is a nice play on the meaning of the Gaelic Usquebaugh which translates to Water of Life or Whisky. It's 1984 for the 21st century.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, September 2002

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