There is an intriguing, if familiar, idea in Nick Harkaway’s fourth novel – it’s the near future and an invisible, Ninteen Eighty-Four-style “Witness” programme means 500m cameras, microphones and sensors monitor our every move, pre-empting dysfunction and enabling the smooth running of The System, to which everyone contributes via constant online voting. ButThere are dissenters and when one, Diana Hunter, mysteriously dies in custody after having her mind read, Inspector Mielikki Neith must unravel what was downloaded to crack the case.
Which is where the lengthy and layered Gnomon immediately becomes a curate’s egg. What Neith finds is four other stories inside Hunter’s head – one historical, one frankly ridiculous, one fantastical and one of a superhuman returning from the end of time to kill everyone else. The constant diversions through time, space and philosophy mean Harkaway treads an incredibly fine line between being enjoyably bewildering and maddeningly, deliberately convoluted. A book to get lost in – but not necessarily in a good way.