Look, I know that the conventional wisdom is “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but can we just acknowledge up front that Made to Kill has a pretty spectacular cover? Look at the retro feel of that, the way it blends sci-fi with noir sensibilities. First of all, it’s a great-looking and attention-grabbing cover, but more than that, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a cover that more accurately prepares you for the wonderfully fun world of Made to Kill.
In his acknowledgments, author Adam Christopher discusses the origins of Made to Kill, and it’s no surprise at all that the book began life as a tribute to Raymond Chandler. More accurately, it’s a tribute to what Raymond Chandler might have written if he had ever written a science-fiction tale. So, just as that gorgeous cover implies, you’re getting a beautifully hard-boiled detective story, but one that’s been run through a science-fiction filter, with a story that starts with a missing person and ends up being about the CIA, Communist plots, mind control, and so much more.
But even apart from the sci-fi elements of the plot, there’s our hero, one Raymond Electromatic, the last robot left in America, and a current detective who also moonlights as a professional killer. That sounds like a complicated setup for a book, and that’s before Christopher brings in all sorts of wrinkles – most notably, that Raymond’s magnetic tape memory only lasts a day, so he has to start each day by being reminded of what came the day before. And yet, Christopher handles it all wonderfully, moving through his setup and backstory with grace and ease, covering it all with humor, style, and fun, and never letting it slow down the Chandler-appropriate fast pace of the story.
More than that, Christopher does his electric hero right, turning Raymond into a narrator who’s more than just a simple gimmick. Yes, he’s capable of wisecracks – who wouldn’t be in a Chandler homage? – but he’s also thoughtful, careful, and a pretty good investigator. And if that’s not all enough, there’s Raymond’s own constant awareness that he’s a strange, alien sight who’s not always welcome. Raymond’s robotic nature isn’t just a gimmick; it’s fundamental to who he is, and it shapes the story along the way in wonderful and surprisingly rich ways.
In the end, though, Made to Kill is a Chandler homage, for better or for worse. For better because its fast pace, clever plotting, entertaining story, and engaging banter make it a blast to read; for worse because that’s about all there is here. It’s a fun detective story, and an original one, but not much beyond that. It’s Cold War pulp, and it’s clever, but it’s popcorn, through and through. But sometimes, all you want is some popcorn, and I can’t deny that Made to Kill scratched that itch and then some. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s entertaining, and it’s a blast to read. Just don’t expect too much depth to chew on when you’re done.