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Robert Sydney (Dennis Danvers)
The Bright Spot
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2005

Spectra / Bantam / Dell / Random House
US Mass Market Paperback First Edition
ISBN 0-553-58759-5
Publication Date: 06-28-2005
337 Pages; $6.99
Date Reviewed: 08-26-05

Index: Science Fiction  Mystery

In the great big, beautiful tomorrow that's just a day away, Nick and Lu count themselves lucky to be poor. At least they don’t have to run workware to earn a living. Instead, they find themselves working in edutainment, playing parts in a re-thinking of 'Frankenstein' that goes by the title 'Billy and the Big Guy'. When they take a job on the side to act in a time-travel simulation for an aging rich man, it seems like easy money.

Of course, easy money is never easy in any fictional setting, and 'The Bright Spot' is no exception. Dennis Danvers, writing as Robert Sydney, has concocted a delightful little near-future crime caper tale that keeps a very low profile even while it takes on some big ideas. It's a lot of fun, a little light, and pretty tight. With a cover so bland it could be any type of book, you'll have to make an effort to find it. Thoughtful science fiction, entertaining mystery and understated romance will make sure your effort is rewarded.

The science fiction conceit at the core of 'The Bright Spot' is workware, the unpleasant little invention of James Dumfries. Originally developed to help our boys in battle, workware allows computer-assisted remote experts to control those running it so that they can most efficiently and safely complete their task. Of course, this doesn't just have military applications. Soon just about anybody who doesn't have a saleable skill is running workware. The nation's employed men and women are essentially a fleet of zombies, who have no recall of their workdays and spend their time off feeling hollowed out and remote. Nick and Lu have escaped this fate in their careers as actors, but find themselves involved in a scam being run on the aging Dumfries. When this scam goes bad, the novel takes off through a quietly dystopian future.

Nick narrates the story, and Danvers does a great job keeping things light while describing things dark. Once they start working together, Nick and Lu find themselves drawn to one another and a very well-handled romance ensues. Everything is remarkably low-key, and that's one of the major attractions of 'The Bright Spot'. Nick's voice is constantly entertaining, and Danvers builds up the usual suspects in a mystery novel with a delicate skill. You get the sympathetic cop, the aged millionaire, the hard-faced, plastic-surgery packed ex-wife, a very entertaining set up supporting actors and producers who are Nick and Lu's co-workers in the edutainment business and, of course, some heartless corporate goons. Everyone is allowed the appropriate amount of detail and not a whit more.

Danver's prose is good but not startlingly so. He's not going for flashy cyberpunk style and substance. Instead, he aims for suburban sustenance, a mark he hits with a certain amount of grace. The prose is every bit as charming as Nick, who is only occasionally a selfish cad.

Danver's mystery plot is quite compelling both conceptually and on a page-turning level. The intermix of science fiction elements and mystery tropes is excellent. Science fiction mysteries are enhanced when the writer adheres to two sets of rules simultaneously. All too often, writers who are combining the two use tropes from one genre to break the rules of the other. Danvers navigates the more difficult path of keeping things sensible on two levels. For readers of the mystery genre, the plot may play a little too long past the solution of the puzzle; for readers of the science fiction genre, the ending will strike a more familiar note.

'The Bright Spot' would be an easy book to miss. I'm not sure why Danvers chose to write under a pseudonym, because this is first-class work. It's funny, interesting and sweet in a way that very few books in either the science fiction or the mystery genre manage to be. 'The Bright Spot' is the satisfying type of novel that readers long for. Even if you think you don’t like science fiction or mystery, there's a good chance that 'The Bright Spot' will shine for you.

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