Martinez is back in top form! I had been rather disappointed in "In the Company of Ogres" for its lack of plot although it had plenty of wisecracks, and disappointed a bit in "A Nameless Witch" for being a bit too solemn - but here in "Automatic Detective" we are back to having novel characters, a fast-moving plot, AND all the wisecracks, in a book as original as Martinez' first, "Gil's All-Fright Diner."
Saying that it's original doesn't mean there isn't any history to it. In order to get the most possible fun out of reading this book, you have to read some of the inspirations behind it. Most obviously, Isaac Asimov's "Caves of Steel" and any Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler - but also Asimov's "I, Robot" stories. For the Hammett, seeing the movie will do; for the Asimov, you definitely need to read the books; the movie called "I, Robot" will NOT cut it. One of the things to note in the robot stories is the sexism of the times back then implicit in the characterization of Susan Calvin, the robot engineer - so that you can see just how much fun Lucia Napier really is! Also, besides those, you should read Alfred Bester's story "Fondly Fahrenheit" (it's been anthologized lots, for example here: Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester). All reet!
I can detect other influences here - classic Harry Harrison and Larry Niven, including Gil the ARM, for example - but I don't want this to sound too much like an academic analysis, so I'll leave you to do those comparisons yourself.
As the editorial and other reviews mention plenty about the plot, I won't repeat it all here. Instead, I'll just give you some examples of the things I particularly liked. The sly turns of phrase:
"Moriarty Asylum for the Criminally Inventive was the cold, dark box where they locked away all the great evil geniuses."
The characters: Jung, who is a gorilla full citizen - his favorite reading is Jane Austen - is changing from his cab driver's uniform, complete with bow tie, into clothes to go out to a nightclub, and says to Mack, "Let me get out of this monkey suit."
The critters: a yellow fuzzy hybrid of a dachshund and a pillbug, which rolls into a ball and plays with kids.
There's also a little girl genius, thugs both robot and human, little green men, aliens, a shrink for robots... lots of great characters. The plot gets solved as satisfyingly as any mystery, and there's a great ending in the classic tradition (which also happened to remind me of the ending of Will Shetterly's "Chimera" Chimera - if you like this book, try that one too!)
Family reading alert: safe for teens, even young ones, if they happen to have the vocabulary to have long since made their way through all the available juvenile fiction and are starting to browse the grown-up science fiction area. There's no sex, very little that anyone could characterize as bad language, and while there is the violence one might expect in a hard-boiled detective mystery, it is mostly robot-on-robot violence and not too graphic. I mention this not because I think there's anything wrong with sex, cursing, and violence if they have a legitimate place in the plot, but I know that many parents would like their kids to have limited exposure to those, especially if they already get too much on TV.
In short: great read, fast-paced, funny, and I'd love to see a sequel.