This is part of a review series in which I take a look at some of the other books that were picked up by Harper Voyager at the same time as mine. For all the usual disclaimers, refer back to the first episode in the series :-)
The Karma Booth has one of the most fascinating premises I’ve come across in ages: what if, by executing a murderer, you could bring his victim back to life? I’d have read this book no matter where I came across it, so the only question was whether it would live up to its promise – and I’m happy to say, it more than delivered.
I love books that pose tricky philosophical questions, that make you stop and think while reading, that linger in your mind for a long time afterwards; and The Karma Booth certainly wins in that respect. It touches on no less weighty topics than morality, the nature of reality, the existence of God, what happens to us when we die. And it doesn’t force answers on you, either. Like the architect of the booth itself, its aim is to make you come up with the answers on your own. No matter what your belief system, or lack thereof, you’ll find something to challenge it here – as long as you’re willing to keep an open mind. Fundamentalists of any stripe need not apply.
Maybe that’s the point.
Of course, weighty questions are all very well, but a book also needs to be a good read. And I’m happy to say that here, again, The Karma Booth is a great success. It combines its philosophy with a pacey, action-driven narrative that reads like the best kind of techno-thriller, so although there’s a lot to take in, you never feel like you’re being hit over the head with it. I kept putting the book down because I needed to do something else (like, you know, get some sleep) but then finding myself picking it up again to read another chapter. The plot is full of mysteries. It makes you want to know what will happen. And it keeps that hold right up until the end.
The book also has some great characters. Although I didn’t find the protagonist, Tim, particularly likeable at first, he soon grew on me. His abrasiveness at the start of the book comes from an unflinching and open-eyed view of what it means to do the right thing, and that’s what drives him through the events that unfold. He’s the guy who rejects expediency and insists on morality; the kind of guy who’s disliked by big business and government bureaucracy because he would never put profit before people. But by far my favourite was the lead female character, Crystal, a woman who’s extremely capable both physically and mentally, but manages to pull it off without ever veering into Mary Sue territory. She and Tim complemented each other well and gave the book a wonderful heart, surrounded by a cast of complex supporting characters and some awful, awful villains.
And while we’re on the subject of the bad guys, I had better add that this book won’t be for everyone. There are some really quite visceral scenes of horror that may turn some readers off. And even beyond the overtly horrific, the author has the knack of conveying, in just a handful of words, the worst acts of depravity that humans have the ability to inflict on each other. There is light and goodness in these pages, but also unimaginable darkness. So if you are squeamish or easily disturbed, you may want to approach with caution. (As a parent, I spent a whole evening in unreasonable fear for the safety of my children after reading what was almost a throwaway reference to young murder victims: “Those whose lives had ended alone—tortured, pitifully crying, with no one responding and coming in time to save them.” Seriously. This one sentence has been haunting me. It’s that kind of book. So be warned.)
For all that, I would wholeheartedly recommend The Karma Booth; I think it’s worth being confronted with the depths of human cruelty if you’re also presented with a very robust picture of what morality really means. It left me pondering, in some depth, our future collective evolution as a species. And to be honest, it also left me wishing that its vision of continued life beyond the world we know was truth, not fiction. You can’t ask for more than that.
The Karma Booth is available to buy in ebook and paperback from Amazon UK and Amazon US.