84K – Claire North

Published by Orbit Books, May 2018
Source: review copy
What if your life were defined by a number?
What if any crime could be committed without punishment, so long as you could afford to pay the fee assigned to that crime?
Theo works in the Criminal Audit Office. He assesses each crime that crosses his desk and makes sure the correct debt to society is paid in full.
But when Theo’s ex-lover Dani is killed, it’s different. This is one death he can’t let become merely an entry on a balance sheet.
Because when the richest in the world are getting away with murder, sometimes the numbers just don’t add up.

I’ve been sat with a draft of this review on my laptop for several weeks now. Every time I try and start, I find myself staring at the screen, struggling to find the words to try and convey just how good this book is.

You see, for most any other book you can sit back and gabble on about plot and character and setting and and and…

But 84K is different. Of course, it’s got the aforementioned plot and character and setting, otherwise it wouldn’t really be a book. What it also has is something special layered on top, and shot through like veins of quartz through rock. Claire North’s books are always startlingly original, and 84K is no exception to that rule. She takes language and format and plays with them, twisting and shaping the very forms of lines and sentences, leaving you with such imagery that the words in and of themselves couldn’t provide, leaving you with the sense of a sculptor playing with marble, or plasticine, or both. It’s astonishing to see it happen in front of you on the page and wonder how on earth she made it work.

The story itself is an all-too-plausible dsytopian nightmare of a future, where crimes are assessed and billed, and wrong-doers are sent to the patty line to work off their debt to society, a society run by the Company. The Company runs everything. Even if you don’t think you work for The Company, you probably work for a company which is owned by a company which is owned by The Company. You get my drift. Whole towns are sponsored by companies (who are of course owned by companies, etc).

Of course, if you’re rich enough (or know someone who is), then you can just pay the indemnity and literally get away with murder…

Through this we follow the (mis)adventures of Theo as he investigates the murder of  his ex-lover Dani. But is Theo who he says he is? Is anyone?

84K is not an easy read, and at times I had to put it down to give my brain a rest from the complex interweaving of narratives – the now and the then melt into each other as sentences melt into paragraphs. This is a book which demands your attention, but rewards you oh so richly for it.

In the 84K world, there’s a price for everything. I highly recommend you check this out. You won’t have read anything *quite* like it, I can guarantee.

84K by Claire North is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the review copy.