You've Got Murder by Donna Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars (8/10)
I'm not sure what started the topic "AI as detective" on the Friends of Liad mailing list (I'm always running behind with my email and do a lot of quick scanning of lists, meaning I sometimes miss things). Whoever it was, by the time I joined the topic, the names of Donna Andrews and Turing Hopper were being tossed around. I read a few emails and decided this sounded like an author to try. I phoned my ever-helpful bookstore and asked it they had a copy; it arrived on my doorstep the next morning. Since I was struggling with Anne Kelleher's Silver's Edge, I chose to take a break from that one and read You've Got Murder right away.
The concept is essentially simple, but very neatly executed. The Universal Library is a growing online store of books and information. Turing Hopper is one of the Artificial Intelligence Personalities (or AIPs) created by UL programmers to help customers find the information they are looking for. But there's one very unique thing about Turing.
Although she has made sure the fact is far from common knowledge, Turing is sentient.
As the book begins, Turing is starting to get worried. Her programmer, Zack, appears to have disappeared. He hasn't been at work for several days, and Turing is unable to trace him electronically through bank account use or anything else of the kind. No-one else seems worried, but Turing remains concerned.
Eventually she enlists the help of two human friends and begins to investigate. Maude, a secretary at UL and Tim, who works in the copy room there, both consider Turing to be a friend. Maude knows she's an AIP while Tim refuses to believe Turing's insistence that she is part of the computer system and spends the first part of the book trying to trick her into telling him what she looks like. As the tale progresses he is convinced, and he and Maude become Turing's hands and legs as they try to discover what has happened to Zack. Perhaps even more importantly, they also begin to discover why Zack has vanished, and this threatens Turing's very existence.
Turing is a delightful heroine; she is both very wise and unexpectedly naive. She has a huge amount of information at her beck and call, but she has less understanding of humans and how they respond to circumstances.
I was a little unsure on the first few pages - the beginning shows a shadowy figure breaking in to Zack's office and is quite different from the feel of the rest of the book. But once things got going and Turing entered the picture the tale took off. It is written alternating between Turing's first person point-of-view and third person focus on Maude and Tim. It took me a couple of switches to get into the flow of things, but Andrews' style soon sweeps the reader up into the story.
Turing learns a lot in the course of the story and is a much stronger person - and there's no doubt she's a person -by the end. Maude and Tim quickly shift from being icons to being real people; I did find that they developed their mechanical and electronic skills especially fast though, once they started doing some building for Turing.
I have the next book in the series - Click Here for Murder - waiting for me at home and I look forward to starting it.
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