Review: Claudius Rex by John P. Murphy

5 of 5 stars.

In a fun, intelligent romp, this novella doubles down on the classic detective genre while setting it just far enough into the near future to allow neural implants and advanced artificial intelligence. Like the thrillers in which a protagonist is manipulated by an unseen counterpoint [by cellphone often], private investigator Andy Baldwin’s finds that an unauthorized AI personality, fictitious PI persona Claudius Rex, has hijacked his Jeeves 5.0 and propelled him into a case involving multiple murders and intellectual theft.

Rex has an abrasive personality, unlike Jeeves:

Are you familiar with Daniel Kahneman’s dual process theory?

“Uh, assume that I’m not.”

The human decision-making mind is divided. One part is rational, approaching every new decision de novo and reasoning from first principles. The other part is intuitive, using emotions and past experience to make snap decisions. Both contribute to human . . . you would call it intelligence, I suppose.

I ignored that. “So?”

Artificial intelligence can mimic and exceed these processes.

The partnership of circumstance makes for great comedy and casework. All of the old cliches get a new face: arrogant executives, an inept security chief, bumbling kidnappers, thugs from foreign syndicates et al. One could hope that this novella is merely the start of a series as there is plenty of room for the relationship between Baldwin and Rex to develop.

I got undressed, flopped onto the twin bed, and fell fast asleep to dream of simpler times when computers did what they were told.

Between Rex’s deductive intelligence and theoretical knowledge of detective fiction [and a personal bone to pick] and Baldwin’s detective experience, ace people-reading skills and actual human body, the duo outwit and blunder there way through the layered case. A movie version would not be unwelcome.

Claudius Rex appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2015 edited by Paula Guran and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Alembical 3, eds. Lawrence M. Schoen & Arthur Dorrance (Paper Golom LLC).
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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