Book Review: The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal

I’m clearly the target audience for this book, since the tag line is “The Thin Man in Space” and I adore The Thin Man.

(CONTEXT: For those of you unfamiliar with this film from the 1930s, it’s a comedy where William Powell, Myrna Loy, and their dog Asta solve a murder. Everyone is witty and elegant and there is some power drinking. Technically, it’s also a holiday movie since much of it is set in late December and there’s a major party scene. Absolutely worth your time if you enjoy people being smart, fashionable, and witty on film while solving murder.)

OKAY. The book. Tesla (famous in her own right as a wealthy heiress & engineer/inventor, disabled after a major accident) and Shal (handsome, sweet retired detective who embroiders) are a delight, trying to travel incognito on a starship to Mars on their honeymoon. Gimlet is Tesla’s Westie service dog.

The murder and the mystery setup itself is well set up and follows the Usual Mystery Tropes strongly, but with the added challenges of doing it in space with variable gravity. Every chapter opens with a cocktail or mocktail recipe geared to the action in the chapter.

Tesla starts the story with every possible advantage, and as each of them is stripped away from her, we see her innate strength, too. A strong cast of supporting characters as well, although I’m particularly attached to Francine, Tesla’s lawyer who crochets so she doesn’t stab people for herself.

This novel is sparkling, witty, well-paced, and keeps the pages turning as the mystery unfolds and we learn more about the characters. Highly recommended.


About Lynne M. Thomas

Lynne M. Thomas is a nine time Hugo Award winning editor and podcaster. In her day job, she is Head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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