1999’s Code of Conduct is the first volume in Kristine Smith’s Chronicles of Jani Kilian pentology. This review is almost certainly going to be one of my Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn’t Suck reviews … but only because it has some MisSF elements, not because it checks all the genre boxes. Code of Conduct is as much detective fiction as it is MilSF; it is definitely not the big-guns, pew-pew-pew variety of MilSF.
As far as anyone from the Commonwealth knows, Jani Kilian died when a military transport starship exploded. Everyone else onboard perished; Jani was only mostly dead. Immediate, cutting-edge medical intervention saved her life. Since her supposed death, Jani has been careful not to let her former bosses know that she is still alive. That would put her in legal peril, as she was confined to the brig was a prisoner(for having shot her highly-connected superior officer) before the explosion.
Jani’s ex-lover Evan van Reuter doesn’t believe Jani is dead. As a member of one of the Families who run the Commonwealth, he has the resources to find her. He is also highly motivated to track Jani down. He has a job for which he believes she is ideally suited.
Clearing his name.
Evan’s wife Lyssa died when her vehicle slammed into rocks at high speed. Perhaps it was an accident. Perhaps it was suicide; the couple’s three children had died and Lyssa was distraught. But the whispering campaign that followed makes it clear that Evan’s political rivals see Lyssa’s death as an opening to take him down. He may be immune to legal action (as the highly connected ever are), but rumours that he had a hand in his wife’s death would be almost as damaging.
Evan is convinced that Jani would be the ideal private investigator; she’s an outsider, fresh to the case, and cannot have been suborned by Evan’s rivals; as his ex-lover she might be favourably inclined; as a wanted criminal she seems controllable.
And it’s important that Jani be pliable, because while Evan may be entirely innocent in the matter of Lyssa’s demise, the van Reuters have so many dark secrets, starting with the exact circumstances under which the van Reuter children died….
Fans of this series will be asking why I have not mentioned Nema, the alien idomeni, the one who saved Jani by turning her into a human/idomeni hybrid. The one who believes that Jani is the harbinger of a great unification between alien and human and so on and so forth. Well, some of that is because biology has been pushed out the airlock, again, and I’m tired of explaining why human/alien hybrids are implausible. Most it is because I have realized that the longer my reviews, the fewer people read them.
This is a world where the 1% has definitely won, although the Commonwealth does seem to be developing a few cracks in the foundation. I have not read the last volumes in the series, so I don’t know how this all turns out. Perhaps a new race of human/idomeni hybrids overthrows the oligarchs.
This book can be slotted into a specific sub-genre of mystery: one of those private detective novels where the client wants a compliant detective, someone who can be counted on to get the results the client wants and who will ignore any potentially embarrassing details … like who exactly planted the bomb on the transport. As you know, Bob and Bobette, the tame detective ploy almost never works. The detective persists in wanting to know who and why (perhaps he is annoyed because someone lured his partner Miles Archer down an alley and shot him). Clients are always astonished by the way that events spiral out of control. Do none of them read detective novels? Although Evan does have the excuse that he lives in a world where very few people dare to say no to the Van Reuters; he cannot imagine that Jani would defy him.
Jani isn’t the sort of detective who is more greedy than wise, taking on an iffy job for the cash. In fact, Jani never expected to be a consulting detective (she’s career military!), so there’s no reason she should have studied the applicable tropes 1. She’s not stupid enough to entirely trust her ex, but I doubt she expects to find all the wriggling bugs she does once she starts flipping rocks.
Action and violent death abound in this book. There’s the ill-fated diplomatic mission that left a shipful of humans dead and Jani on the run; there are the bodies that start turning up as Jani begins to figure what’s really going on … but the book is not so much an action thriller as a mystery with violent interludes. What kept me hitting the new-page key is the progress of Jani’s investigation and the nasty secrets that she uncovers.
This has just been re-released in a shiny new ebook edition, which is available here.
1: Jani very narrowly avoids appearing in an entirely different sort of novel, the thriller about the minor paper-pusher whose bosses convince themselves that the only reason someone as competent as Jani would work for them would be if she were some kind of undercover cop. Evan tracks her down and forces her to work for him before her concerned bosses can follow up on that plot thread.