The City & the City - China Miéville
The City and the City starts like most crime novels with the discovery of a murder victim; in this case a young woman in the vaguely Eastern European city of Beszel. Inspector Tyador Borlu of the extreme crime squad is called in to investigate, and a lead soon points to Beszel neighboring city-state of Ul Qoma. However, the border between the two titular cities is unlike any other, which soon becomes apparent to the reader.

The exact nature of Beszel and Ul Qoma has a fantastic reveal. Nothing seems strange about the setting at first, but Borlu increasingly makes cryptic references to “unseen crowds” and “crosshatched” areas. It soon becomes apparent to the reader that Beszel and Ul Qoma are effectively a single conurbation; some areas and neighborhoods are in one city entirely, whereas others are completely intertwined. A single street in these “crosshatched” areas can include adjoining buildings in different cities. The border is reinforced by the inhabitants of each city, who have learned to mentally block or “unsense” the neighboring city and its residents.

The premise sounds a bit absurd played straight, but Mieville’s world building is so thorough and believable that it works. The murder mystery is also tied into the nature of the cities itself, leading Borlu to contend with underground political movements(some seeking for one city to dominate, others to join the two as one,) his Ul Qoman counterparts, and the mysterious force that maintains the division between both cities.

A noir-influenced detective story with a unique setting, The City and The City is simply a must read.