Novella Review: Maurice Broaddus’ "I Can Transform You"

Part of the Apex Voices series, Maurice Broaddus’ “I Can Transform You” is not the kind of novella that I would pick up on my own. Why? Well, for one thing, it’s a noir mystery, which is not a genre I often read. But “I Can Transform You” is a pleasant surprise, as it’s a different kind of mystery, one that breaks open some of the old mystery tropes.

“I Can Transform You” tells the story of Mac Peterson, a for-hire tough man and investigator ex-cop who gets dragged into a murder case when he finds out that one of the victims was his ex, who was also a cop. Ade Walter is the detective officially assigned to the case; he lets Mac tag along, despite it being against the rules and despite Ade’s insistence that rules are there for a reason. But there’s more to the world of “I Can Transform You” than meets the eye; for one thing, Ade Walter’s got a cybernetic implant, and strange alien towers and blue lights have appeared in the sky. There’s all the stuff of a typical mystery: wrong turns, banter, unveiled corruption, a good cop/bad cop push-and-pull between the two protagonists, whose dichotomy provides even more of the tension than the murder mystery itself. Oh, and aliens.

Mac Peterson is a great character; throughout the story, it’s evident that his grief is what’s driving him to keep going. But the best, and also eeriest, character in the novella is the city itself; the towers that see more falling, or pushed, bodies by the day, the blue lights which provide such a vivid and surreal ambiance, the dilapidated buildings inhabited by familial gangs. I felt often as though I knew the place, as though I had walked through it myself.

“I Can Transform You” shares some similarities with another book I just finished, Walter Mosley’s Futureland. And as with that book, there is no happy ending for the characters in Broaddus’ “I Can Transform You.” But Broaddus seems to have a good grip of the dark and familiar territory in which he writes; he seems fully aware of the tropes of this particular genre, and it seems as though at times that he is poking fun at some of them. The end of the book is both unlike what you would expect from a noir mystery and exactly what you would expect from a noir mystery. I trust that this was Broaddus’ intention, as he is a completely capable master of prose and pacing, a writer who makes me trust him with his words. I will certainly be keeping my eye on his work in the future.

Also included in the book is a steampunk short story “Pimp My Airhsip.” To purchase “I Can Transform You,” visit the Apex Publications page for a full list of retailers.

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