The Dispatcher
March 14, 2021

Book Review

The Dispatcher

John Scalzi

reviewed by Lou Jacobs


The Dispatcher: Murder by Other Means is a perfect jumping-off point to enter the world of master storyteller, John Scalzi. While the story is told with a hardboiled detective motif utilizing a futuristic element, Scalzi writes across all genres in an equally enduring and compelling manner.

The timeline is the near future. Inexplicably, murder is now a “dying” art: when you kill people these days, nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of thousand, they came back, reappearing at their homes or a safe place, naked and confused, no matter where in the world they were killed. But, that one time in a thousand is a bummer.

This small percentage real deathrate gives rise to a new profession called dispatchers, who are licensed, bonded, and insured. The dispatchers give people who were about to die of natural causes—or die accidentally—a chance to come back and live. How? They save people by killing them.

Once in a while, they stretch the rules, pushing “thrill seekers” off a water tower, say.  And if they landed on the ground and didn’t disappear? A bullet to the head.

Everyone has to make a living!

The most acceptable job is “dispatching” someone near the edge of a natural death, since a dispatcher can lose a license through nefarious acts.

For Tony Valdez, a professional dispatcher, times are tough. No longer employed full-time, sometimes his freelance work is questionably legal, and definitely nefarious.

Suddenly, a rash of people tangentially connected to Tony start actually dying by suicide without a motive. This necessitates a deep dive investigation by Tony and his police detective friend, Nona Langdon. At one time, Tony was a consultant for the police, but had unceremoniously been dumped due to an austerity budget. Most people wanted to talk to Tony about death, like he was a priest. The investigative process is mucked up when one of the investigating detectives suddenly commits suicide. An inordinate number of coincidences arise. Tony soon learns about loyalty and its consequences—you’re either an asset or a liability.

In The Dispatcher: Murder by Other Means Scalzi weaves a byzantine plot involving bank robbers, international crime, crime bosses, thugs, and even gender dysphoria that escalates with multiple unexpected reveals and an explosive denouement. His pacing and dialogue is propulsive, leading to a page-turner. His multi-layered characters are endearing and demand further tales. Even though this novella is the second in a series, it stands alone. Excuse me, while I go and download the first tale.

Thanks to NetGalley and Subterranean Press for providing an Uncorrected Proof in exchange for an honest review.

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