By Jem Tugwell
Published by Serpentine Books
Genre: Techno Thriller/ Procedural
Published on June 6, 2019
An entertaining, yet thought-provoking police procedural set in the near future where society has given away their person freedoms in favor of being more secure and more healthy. Now the government has the ability to monitor where each person is, what they eat, how much they exercise, how fast they drive…. all through the iME – an implanted device on each person.
You can’t get away with anything. Least of all murder.
DI Clive Lussac has forgotten how to do his job. Ten years of embedded technology – ‘iMe’ – has led to complete control and the eradication of crime. Then the impossible happens. A body is found, and the killer is untraceable. With new partner Zoe Jordan, Clive must re-sharpen his detective skills and find the killer without technology, before time runs out for the next victim…
Leading the trend in speculative crime thrillers, Jem Tugwell’s thrilling and thought-provoking debut sits alongside Black Mirror and The City and the City in a compelling exploration of our near future. Proximity draws on Jem’s 20 years of professional experience as a software developer in the city to give an unnerving insight into how our world might be transformed by the rapid advance in embedded technology and fitness trackers.
What if the cash-strapped public healthcare system can be given a second life by using tech to regulate our health and behaviour?
What if we can eradicate gun, knife and other proximity crimes by tracking everyone’s activity?
What if civil liberty is seen as an acceptable sacrifice for the greater good?
What if the convenience of technology is used for control?
“Proximity is inspired by the fascinating possibilities of technology, AI and the law of unintended consequences. From my own experience, technologists are often amazed or horrified about the other uses that people imagine for their products. Clive and Zoe’s world might be closer than we think, but is it heaven or hell? How do we decide the perfect balance of free will and greater good?” – Jem Tugwell
With the change in society, policing changed dramatically. No longer did detectives have to interview suspects or seriously look over the crime scene. Instead, the cases became cut and dry to where you could instantly tell who did it when someone’s life signal went red. As a result, detectives were no longer as necessary and the Proximity Crime Unit (PCU) department where they look into crimes was gradually reduced to two: DI Clive Lussac – a man in the process of a divorce who still remembers what it was like to be a real detective and DC Zoe Jordan – someone from the younger generation who has really only known the iME and is only in PCU on a three month mandatory rotation. So when Karina Morgan is reported missing by her boyfriend no one believes that it is actually a real case. It’s a glitch or a defect, because no one is really missing – ever. However, slowly the team begins to realize this is a serious situation, especially when another goes missing too. Unfortunately even DI Clive Lussac, who used to detective the old-fashioned way is a bit lost and out of practice and it takes a while for the PCU team to get how this process of ‘detectiving’ even works.
Proximity alternates between three POVs – DI Clive Lussac, DC Zoe Jordan and the killer’s chapters, which are called “Thief.” Between Clive and Zoe we get to see the differences between the generations. Clive is old-school. Wants to eat what he wants, drink when he wants, and grows frustrated with all the monitoring done on how he lives his life. He also still remembers how the department used to work before the iME. Zoe, on the other hand, is completely invested into the iME and never is even close to going past her allotment of Freedom Units. But, she’s pretty quick in learning how to adapt to a new style of police work once the two realize they actually have to investigate. Still, it has been a long time since actual police work was done and both Clive and Zoe have a lot of learning (or remembering) the correct way to do things. But even when they remember the correct way, they still have to learn to work within this new system. The Thief chapters are where we see what is occurring from the killer’s point of view. They can be a bit graphic at times, so those who are squeamish may want to speed read, or skip certain parts. These chapters are generally very short.
As mentioned earlier, the story is not only entertaining, but thought-provoking. None more so than the general question of how much freedom are you willing to give up for security or better health or for general safe practices? The government now has the ability to monitor each person for a wide range of activities because humans just can’t be trusted to do make correct choices for themselves. But in doing so, it also specifically limits their non-healthy choices and literally won’t let you make poor choices. Need to eat a gallon of chocolate ice cream after breaking up with your boyfriend? Nope – not if you’ve exceeded your approved intake. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Clive goes to the vending machine for a candy bar. It won’t let him have one because he is over his limit and Clive ends up having “words” with the vending machine. You might think that’s the end of it, but nope – the vending machine takes offense and isn’t happy with Clive’s anger and reports on him because of it.
Overall, I enjoyed how technology and iME played an integral part in the story. Being a techno thriller it definitely plays a major role as you might expect, but it is really an interesting setup since technology in this story dictates the constraints and limitations the characters are under. Throughout the story you can clearly see Clive’s frustration with this new society, but he is not alone and during the story you get glimpses of how others have found ways to work around this system, which allows the author to nicely set this up as a series. I also found this a fairly easy read, which you don’t necessarily always find in a techno thriller. The technology setup is one someone can easily understand, especially since it is set in the near-future and things or apps we use today are mentioned and brings to light questions and issues we face today regarding security and personal freedom and privacy. The characters were interesting and I really enjoyed Clive’s frustration and complaints about everything and Zoe’s contrasting opinions and outlook.
Rating: 5 stars
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I am a crime fiction author with a Crime Writing MA from City University. Proximity is my thrilling debut novel, inspired by the fascinating possibilities of technology, AI and the law of unintended consequences. Available on 6 June 2019.
In a past life, I had a successful career in investment management, and now live in Surrey with my wife. I have two great children and dog. Outside of my family and writing, my loves are snowboarding, old cars and bikes.
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