The Disappeared (A Retrieval Artist Novel) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. WMG Publishing, 2012. 9780615458564. 319pp.
Rusch founded Pulphouse Publishing along with Dean Wesley Smith back in the late 80s, and I loved almost every short story collection they published. (Their five volume edition of The Collected Short Fiction of Robert Sheckley is still my favorite.) Rusch edited The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy for a few years in the 90s, wrote some great books and short stories, and then kind of fell off my radar. I was weeding books in my garage, saw a few of hers, and realized I didn’t know if or what she’s been writing lately. It turns out there are lots of answers to that question (she’s still prolific), and my library had this one, the first in a 15 book series.
Human civilization has expanded beyond our solar system and has contact with several little-understood alien civilizations. When humans are on alien soil, they’re subject to alien laws. The problem is that the laws are little-understood, punishments are harsh, and the aliens are not really up for explaining ahead of time. And when they’ve been violated they are far from understanding. If they’re in trouble with aliens, and if they can afford it, humans hire a disappearance agency to help them start a new life with a new identity so that they (and in some cases their families) can escape justice.
Which brings us to the moon and several cases involving the man who will be our hero, Detective Flint. He’s supposed to help several alien species out for justice. One wants to send an attorney away for decades of hard labor that will probably kill her. Another is there trying to take two children, claimed for crimes their parents committed years earlier. (The crimes committed to warrant such punishment are a mystery until late in the book.) The only things on Flint’s side are the moon’s legal bureaucracy and his partner, a senior detective with a bad rep and little respect for him. Flint doesn’t really want to help the aliens, but he doesn’t seem to have much choice.
Hard to say more than that without ruining it. Hell, I feel like I can’t even explain what a retrieval artist is as it’s kind of a late reveal, and I recommend you don’t look into it ahead of time, either. There’s a manhunt, grisly crime scenes, great characters, intimidating aliens, and a few mysteries/problems to be solved, all written in Rusch’s well-plotted, straightforward style. It was a great read that I could not put down.