01/05/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 319 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.00 (US), $16.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-49433-7.
check out website: www.delreybooks.com and www.AlexIrvine.Blogspot.com
The premise of 'Buyout' by Alexander C. Irvine is actually a very good one. Rather than the state keep life prisoners at $300,000 per year, which if they're young can mount up to thirty-six million dollars, they can be offered a buyout. You volunteer to be killed and donate a smaller percentage of that money to relatives and good causes.
It's a nascent operation put together by two ex-cops who enlist Martin Kindred to do the running around. He in turn enlists his older buddy and private investigator Charlie Rhodes to ensure that the 'clients' were not coerced or used as a means to pay illicit debts in such activity.
Much of the story is followed through Kindred's eyes with the odd switch to Rhodes view of things. Set thirty years into our future where cars are automated, surveillance is top notch (although not enough that people can't get away with murder) and money has gone digital, there is still enough there to remind you this world isn't that far from our own.
Kindred is hounded by Priceless Life who see him as the last step to an unwarranted execution. His marriage slowly begins to fall apart and his police officer brother is killed. He then finds himself being given evidence that one of the buyouts was responsible for his brother's death and although a little iffy, decides to authorise it. Anymore than that would spoil the plot and you'd have to hope a buyout will get you out of prison the dead way.
As far as it goes, Irvine did a good job as far as the above précis goes. The odd blemishes start when he actually jumped the actual emotional breakdown of the Kindreds' marriage. I put that down to perhaps being too much of an emotive subject. However, the ending also becomes somewhat disjointed as if Irvine had either had to meet a particular page count or not sure how to pull the story to an end or a combination of same.
If he hadn't standardised the ending, 'Buyout' could easily have been turned into a classic looking at how the death sentence is carried out in America ending with the mighty dollar. I could see something like 'Priceless Life' being more effective in the UK than the USA where death sentences are carried out on a regular basis for people to be less affected when a life-sentence murderer takes the needle though.
Despite these criticisms, Irvine does do an excellent job with creating characters and the book is a definite page-turner to see what happens next and doesn't pull any punches most of the time. Oddly, I could see this book making an interesting film and frequently saw actor Sam Elliott in the Rhodes role.
Science Fiction works at its best envisaging what would happen should certain decisions be made and then shows the consequences. 'Buyout' falls into this category and should certainly be considered a read if you have thoughts about what to do with criminals. Would it work in our world? Personally, I think there would be more than one man involved and certainly several committees doing the screening but even novels have to bring the numbers down to tell a story. I don't think it would work in any place that doesn't have a death sentence for serious criminals or with criminals who'd prefer life in prison.
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