I Only Killed Him Once – Book Review

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, everyone. Today we’re taking a look at the third in the “LA Trilogy” series of books by Adam Christopher – I Only Killed Him Once. This is the last in the series, though it can be read stand-alone, starring everybody’s favourite robot detective/hitman Raymond Electromatic and his secretary/handler Ada, the supercomputer housed inside their offices who ensures that Ray is always kept charged up and instructs him on the missions he needs to complete.

Ray is the kind of guy you go to when you need someone to disappear. In many ways he’s the perfect choice, especially when you consider that the tape that serves as his memory runs out at the end of every day so when he wakes up the next morning with a new tape inside him, he’s forgotten everything that happened the day before. You can’t ask for better discretion than that. Of course, that does lead to certain existential questions that are briefly lingered on by Ray himself:

Was I the same person, when I woke up? Sure, I wasn’t a person. As far as I knew, robots—even ones that looked like people—had only ever acquired the same legal rights as the automobile parked in the garage several floors underneath my feet. But I walked and I talked and I thought about things and I thought that made me a person of a kind. But was I the same person when I woke up? Was the Ray Electromatic that was looking out of my optics at this very moment the same one that would be viewing the world in the morning?

This has worked pretty well for him until now, until the day a man he’s supposed to have killed shows up at his offices with a cryptic warning that things are about to get very hot for him. Cue a rather Memento-like treasure hunt as Ray follows clues that he’s left for himself to try and puzzle out exactly what he’s gotten himself into and along the way perhaps learn more about the man who created him and then disappeared.

What we have here is a blend of multiple genres. Take four parts hard-bitten noir detective, sprinkle in two parts of 1950’s era science fiction and another two parts “Red Scare” communist paranoia and you would have something vaguely along the lines of I Only Killed Him Once. Not much can be said in terms of the plot without spoilers, but there are many parallels to other media of that particular time period where this book is set, especially “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers” with their fears of infiltration and traitors from within.

This is a lovely mashup of genres, the noir mingling with the futuristic to lovely effect:

I calculated a few options and ran a few of them through my tabulating regression forecaster. The answers came back the same each time, and none of them was of much use to me given that the house seemed empty and the street was quiet and I was a robot sitting in a car with a ray gun that wasn’t much good for anything if there were no robots to shoot with it.

Adam Christopher has done a fine job of presenting us with a world that is believable, filled with interesting and intriguing characters. The descriptions of Ada, for instance, conjure up immediate images of the femme fatale. Touch Daley is the quintessential faceless G-Man while Ray himself is, for all his hitman work, immediately identifiable as the stereotypical beat down gumshoe. If criticism is to be made, it would be that the reader might well be left wanting to know more about what, pardon the pun, makes the robot detective tick.

Perhaps it’s simply the nature of the character not to spend too much time wondering about his own existence but of all the characters in the story Ray ends up being the least interesting of them all.

I Only Killed Him Once is now available from Titan Books.

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