Patricia Marques’ debut The Colours of Death is a successful genre mash. Marques has taken a down-the-line crime procedural, mixed it with a well imagined alternative world in which some people are ‘gifted’ with specific powers and set it on the very real streets of Lisbon. All anchored by a strong, flawed and despite her difference, relatable, female lead.
The world of The Colours of Death is one in which some of the population are known a “gifted”. Gifted individuals have one of two capabilities – either telepathy (the ability to hear thoughts and read minds) or telekinesis (the ability to move objects without touching them). Not all people have the same level of gift, and the Gifted a rated on a scale from one to ten. Anyone with a rating over seven must be monitored and those with the highest rating are considered dangerous and are often disappeared by the Government. Unsurprisingly there is plenty of fear and discrimination in the general population around the Gifted and their powers including a growing political force led by a populist politician that wants to see all Gifted people more tightly controlled.
Pulled away from the case of an unidentified dead woman, Gifted (telepathy) detective Isabel Reis is called to a high profile death on a commuter train. The victim is one of the two lead researchers at the main Portuguese institute for testing and rating of the gifted and seems to have been killed by someone with powerful telekinetic powers. Isabel, who can read people’s memories when she touches them is using a slightly illegal drug to keep her gift under control but the side effects of the drug are constant, blinding headaches. As part of the case she is landed with a new partner, Voronov, a non-gifted detective who comes with his own challenges for her as he is known for having testified against her former (gifted) partner. Isabel has to try and solve the case as tension and suspicion ratchets up within the team, political tension mounts on the police force and another victim is found. At the same time, Isabel is having to deal with her own drug dependency and a difficult family situation.
Within all of the well-handled world building, Marques has delivered a solid, engaging police procedural. Isabel and her team are competent investigators stymied by a complex case, lies and obfuscation. Isabel’s gift is of limited use as she requires consent to use it, although it comes more into its own towards the climax. And, as with all good crime fiction, the narrative brings the city of Lisbon, not seen as often as other world capitals, its people, it’s landscapes and its food, to life.
So long as genre snobs can hold any of their own prejudices back there is plenty to enjoy here for both crime and speculative fiction fans. But really, this is an engaging read for anyone with a working imagination. The Colours of Murder is a great crime debut in an intriguing world and the perfect set up for an ongoing series.