The City and the City are Beszel and Ul Qoma, two overlapping cities somewhere in Eastern Europe. They literally exist in the same physical space. Some streets belong to one, some to the other, and some to both at the same time. Crossing between them, even looking at, even noticing the other city, is termed Breach, and is strictly forbidden. Children learn at early age to “unsee” the other city. In “crosshatched” streets, drivers navigate past cars from the other city without really seeing them.

The two have different cultures, different economic phases, architecture, clothing, and so on. Beszel is Slavic, Ul Qoma feels Arabic. (Makes me think of the Balkan countries.) This is all described briefly and in passing, but it still gives a feel of rich detail.

A dead body is found in Beszel, and it seems to the police detective investigating it that the murder was committed in one city and the body then dumped in another. The whole affair goes deeper and weirder than he could have imagined: conspiracies, unknown connections between the two cities, underground political movements (some nationalist, some aiming for unification of the cities), an archaeological dig in Ul Qoma unearthing objects from pre-Cleavage times, etc.

The plot is really pretty ordinary crime noir. The setting is what makes this book: there wouldn’t be a story here if it wasn’t for the two cities. The idea is a fascinating one, very clever. It’s hard to believe that it could ever work, but Mieville actually makes it believable. That is an amazing achievement in itself.

The book is a powerful combination of the everyday and the weird: the weird made ordinary, so ordinary that the local inhabitants don’t even think about it. A great read.

Adlibris, Amazon UK, Amazon US.