Review: The Mimicking of Known Successes – Malka Ann Older
by Malka Ann Older
Series: Mossa & Pleiti #1
Publication Date: March 7, 2023
Genres: Mystery, Science Fiction
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
The Mimicking of Known Successes presents a cozy Holmesian murder mystery and sapphic romance, set on Jupiter, by Malka Older, author of the critically-acclaimed Centenal Cycle.
On a remote, gas-wreathed outpost of a human colony on Jupiter, a man goes missing. The enigmatic Investigator Mossa follows his trail to Valdegeld, home to the colony’s erudite university—and Mossa’s former girlfriend, a scholar of Earth’s pre-collapse ecosystems.
Pleiti has dedicated her research and her career to aiding the larger effort towards a possible return to Earth. When Mossa unexpectedly arrives and requests Pleiti’s assistance in her latest investigation, the two of them embark on a twisting path in which the future of life on Earth is at stake—and, perhaps, their futures, together.
This novella is basically Sherlock Holmes, if they were both women, it was set on Jupiter, and Watson was still in love with his ex-gf Holmes. It’s also about second chances and how to approach them. Do you try to recreate the same relationship as before or do you try something completely new? Or is there a way to find a balance between them?
Investigator Mossa is great at uncovering and analyzing often incongruous bits of information but not so good at interpersonal relationships. So when her latest victim is traced to Valdegeld University her first stop is calling on her college ex-girlfriend, Pleiti, now a Classics Scholar at the same institution. While Mossa’s the more stereotypical genius with no time for small talk or tact, Pleiti’s also got all the usual social awkwardness of the professor-type who just wants to read their books and write their papers. Drawn into the murder investigation, though, bit by bit, what initially looked like a simple suicide turns out to be something with far wider and worse consequences.
Part of the fun of this novella, I think, is not knowing exactly what being a Classics scholar means, in this context – or really knowing much about the whole concept. Suffice it to say that it’s a fascinating take on gaslamp sci-fi with lots of moody fog, a couple of libraries, and copious amounts of tea and scones. The setting, its history and how it affects the story all read as plausible to me, as well as being highly unique while simultaneously paying homage to Holmes. The mystery itself is also well-crafted. I think, though, that my only criticism is that this isn’t the type of mystery where the reader’s given enough clues to figure out what’s going on. Key bits of information are only revealed as they’re necessary, sometimes in a way that leaves Pleiti in the dark as much as the reader. Given the confines of a novella, though, I can understand why working in all the detail that goes into figuring out the mystery would be, well, not very mysterious.
And sure, the setting and the mystery itself are great, but what I really loved were the characters. Besides a quick third-person prologue, the novella is told from Pleiti’s first-person POV. From the moment Mossa turns up on her doorstep, even without being told, we know that they have history, and as the novella progresses the pining practically drenches their every interaction. But Pleiti never outright clarifies to their reader their past relationship or what broke them up or whether she still has feelings – it’s all dropped bit by bit in conversation, in the way they interact, and how Pleiti’s willing to drop everything to help Mossa. It’s second-chance romance as one of those Picasso line drawings, and I loved it so much.
Overall, I was beyond excited to realize this was the first in a planned series as it was almost everything I want in a sci-fi murder mystery. I can’t wait to settle down for the next one with some tea and scones!
Content notes: View Spoiler »presumed suicide, murder, violence (including by and against an animal) « Hide Spoiler