Set in the world of The Big Sheep, The Last Iota by Robert Kroese delivers another dystopian adventure novel full of wit and intrigue.
When last we saw Blake Fowler and Erasmus Keane—private detectives in a near-future L.A.—they had narrowly escaped a brush with femme fatale Selah Fiore, Hollywood actress-turned-cutthroat-businesswoman, with their lives.
Which makes the opening of their second adventure, The Last Iota, so unexpected. Our heroes have been summoned to a movie set by their erstwhile nemesis—it seems Selah is willing to let bygones be bygones due to a vital job she has for the pair.
Before she details the exact nature of the job, they get a sneak peak at some movie-making magic:
We weren't watching the real Selah Fiore, of course. Selah Fiore was nearly sixty years old, and the woman on the screen appeared to be closer to thirty. This was Selah from her glory days, circa 2010. The voice was the real Selah's, but the image was a computer-generated facsimile combining Selah's appearance from thirty years ago, the real Selah's facial expressions, and the body of an android stand-in.
Glancing at Keane, I realized the cause of the disparity in our reactions: I was watching the simulacrum on the screen to our right, but Keane was watching Ben What's-His-Name interacting with the android on the soundstage to our left. The android resembled a crash test dummy more than a human being, and it was a poor substitute for a fine specimen of femininity like thirty-year-old Selah Fiore. Watching the scene unfold with a faceless robot playing Selah's part definitely sucked the romance out of the experience.
It was so unsettling, in fact, that I found myself deliberately ignoring the real-life scene to focus on the monitor. Meanwhile, Keane continued to forgo the illusion in favor of the robot. That was Erasmus Keane in a nutshell: always trying to get at the reality behind the illusion, even if it made him—and everyone around him—miserable.
What could be so vital that Selah would overlook how Keane and Fowler had destroyed her cloning project in The Big Sheep, the experiment that would have guaranteed her the immortality she so desperately craved?
It seems that the dying actress is now determined to get her hands on an iota: a coin that represents the new virtual currency that has overtaken physical dollars. The puzzle is that the physical coin is supposedly worthless, a mere gimmick that was given away at a gala event a decade ago. Narrator Fowler knows there must be more to this iota than meets the eye, and he would love to have nothing to do with Ms. Fiore ever again; but needs must, and he and Keane have bills to pay.
In typically short order, things get extremely confusing: the already sick and dying Selah is found murdered, Fowler and Keane are duly framed for the crime, and their investigation continually leads them into the DZ—a section of L.A. that became a lawless country unto itself in the wake of the financial Collapse ten years earlier.
Further complicating matters, Fowler's former girlfriend Gwen—who was missing for years only to reappear at the close of The Big Sheep—disappears again, and a woman calling herself Olivia Fiore begins leading the duo into a dangerous game of cat-or-mouse. A mysterious someone is messaging Fowler, the richest man in the world may be involved in the iota scheme, and a group of mercenaries are in the process of clearing the DZ with hails of bullets.
It's certainly never a dull time in 2040 L.A.
The Holmes/Watson pastiche is a frequent, evergreen one, and Kroese toes the line of the trope with Fowler (the practical ex-military man turned bodyguard and narrator) and Keane (a misanthropic genius with no social skills). Most of The Last Iota's excitement and freshness comes from its futuristic, semi-dystopian setting.
This is a Holmes and Watson story by way of Blade Runner, where clones, androids, killer drones, and holograms abound, and where computer hacking and virtual currency could mean the end of the world. There are femme fatales, guns, and blood aplenty, as well as some incredibly colorful side characters:
We'd arrived at the pawnshop. I followed Keane inside, where a man I assumed was Kwang-hyok Kim hunched over a counter stacked high with oddities and bric-a-brac. I'm not the greatest at estimating either heights or ages, but I would guess this guy was about two feet tall and three hundred years old. I may be exaggerating slightly. In any case, he was very small and very old, and he talked incredibly fast in a language that I deduced, with my professional detective skills, was Korean.
Keane continues to be an enigma in this second adventure; we know only as much as Fowler does, and what he primarily knows is how to create grappling hooks from hardware store paraphernalia, flashbombs in militarized ghettos, and how to outwit gun-toting drones.
Thanks to our soldier-turned-bodyguard narrator, the story is an action-packed one with several death-defying scrapes. Thanks to his inscrutable partner, we get lengthy lectures on the nature of financial markets and philosophers. And, thanks to the neo-noir setting, we never know when someone will suddenly betray the heroes or abruptly die/disappear.
The Last Iota's strength lies in its setting that is equal parts utter fantasy and highly plausible. It does drag at times, but the slow sections are countered by the frenetic action sequences that inevitably follow. For those who can never have enough Sherlock Holmes re-imaginings, this futuristic thriller is a must-read.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.