Book Review: Lock In by John Scalzi

Lock In by John Scalzi
Lock In by John Scalzi
Tor, 2014
Cover design by Peter Lutjen

Lock In is what you get when John Scalzi decides to write a mystery novel. And it turns out he’s pretty good at it.

The science fiction in this novel is as good as I’ve come to expect from Mr. Scalzi. He offers a compelling premise with intriguing ramifications. He creates a world based on this premise that’s completely believable—it’s unforced and naturalistic, populated by nuanced and quirky characters who feel very real.

But make no mistake—this is a mystery novel more than it’s a science fiction novel.

As a whodunit, I found Lock In quite compelling. The process of discovery pulled me through, the pace was rapid and exciting, and the stakes were high. Structurally, this is a better mystery novel than many on the market. Mr. Scalzi ably proves that he has the skill to cross genres.

My main criticism of Lock In is that the ending a bit too pat. As a reader, I don’t just want to know who did it, I also need to know why—but there must be a better way to reveal the why than to have the villain spill their guts and explain everything in a long-winded, expository confession. That type of ending is too easy.

It’s not really fair of me to fault Mr. Scalzi for ending Lock In with a Villain’s Confession, though. This is a standard feature of the mystery genre and it’s probably the most common way for mystery novels to end. Given that Mr. Scalzi uses this novel to try his hand at writing a mystery, it stands to reason that he would include this type of ending, just as he includes other genre-standard structural elements and tropes.

If I were to assess Lock In for its faithfulness to the standards and requirements of the mystery genre, the Villain’s Confession that ends it is actually a point in Mr. Scalzi’s favor. It’s true to the genre.

It’s just that I don’t like Villain’s Confessions in any mystery novel. Reliance on this type of ending is a fault of the mystery genre as a whole.

Aside from that one personal beef, Lock In is a fast-paced and entertaining read from an author who continues to prove himself one of the best in the business.

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