As an ex-military private detective, Jeremy Stake is used to strange missions, but he's about to embark on one of his most peculiar jobs yet. Stake has a mild form of Caro turbida, a mutation that gives him the ability to shift his form to mimic any human. He has been hired to act as a doppelganger for a felon who wants to skip out on his sixth-month jail sentence in the Trans-Paxton Penitentiary, a high-security prison locked away in a pocket dimension outside a major city. However, he soon discovers that the standard risks of jail life--boredom, bad food, and navigating life amongst the gangs that control the majority of the prison--are the least of his worries. Someone--or something--is systematically murdering the inmates, causing them to explode into a welter of blood and particles. If Stake can't figure out what's behind it, he may very well be next.
Red Cells is a fast, fluffy read. I finished it in a little under an hour, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. I'm a sucker for anything vaguely hardboiled, and Thomas is definitely working off those tropes, but his story also includes all the added fun that comes with a soft-scifi backdrop. In Stake's world, "muties" (mutants) and various humanoid alien species are common, half the prison staff are robotic, and bizarre pale ghostlike creatures haunt the transdimensional space. However, while I greatly enjoyed the exuberant scifi scenery, I felt that the story could benefit with another round of revisions. Don't get me wrong--it's competently written and doesn't suffer from typos or grammatical errors. The stylistic weaknesses were more a tendency towards Tell-Not-Show and Instant Paraphrase. I also think the plot could do with a little more cohesion and the characters a bit more dimensionality. To me, Red Cells seems slightly uncomfortable as a novella; while the structure is that of a short story, it lacks the short story's fast punch and tight plot, but the character development and complexity one expects from a novel is also absent.
All the same, I felt that Thomas made good use of the hardboiled tropes, including a few chuckle-worthy classics; for example:
"I'd like to talk to them, if I can think of an excuse to go to the infirmary."
Null nodded, then turned to Billings. "Break his nose."
Overall, I enjoyed Red Cells; Thomas is deft at building suspense, and the story's lighthearted, often amusing antics were a nice change from the darker books I have been reading. I also think the idea of a chameleon detective is both promising and entertaining. With its snarky conversations, action-packed plot, and gratuitous gore, Red Cells reminds me a bit of a TV episode: fast, silly, and fun.
~~I received this ebook through NetGalley from the publisher, DarkFuse, in exchange for my honest review.~~