Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them and are awarded symbolic banners to demonstrate this privilege. In the meantime, birth control is mandatory.
Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn't yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him?
In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.
About the Author
CARRIE VAUGHN is the best-selling author of the Kitty Norville series, the most recent of which is the fourteenth installment, Kitty Saves the World. She is also the author of several other books, including the superhero novels Dreams of the Golden Age and After the Golden Age, the young adult novels Voices of Dragons and Steel, and the fantasy novel Discord’s Apple. Her Hugo Award–nominated short fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, from Lightspeed to Tor.com, as well as in George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series. She lives in Colorado with a fluffy attack dog.
Read an Excerpt
A Suspicious Death
Enid came downstairs into a kitchen bright with morning sun blazing through the one window and full of the greasy smell of cooked sausage. Olive already had breakfast—sausage, toast, cream—set out on the table. In her dress and apron, her dark hair pulled back with a scrap of cloth, she was already at work—but shouldn’t have been, in Enid’s opinion.
“How are you feeling?” Enid asked, hoping to keep worry out of her voice.
“I wish people would stop asking me that,” Olive said, not looking up from the batch of dough that she was kneading, folding and punching it into the counter as if she could make it disappear.
Three other batches of dough sat rising in nearby bowls. Serenity household didn’t need that much bread. Olive would probably trade it around the rest of Haven town.
Enid couldn’t help herself. “How long you been up?”
Olive’s smile was strained. “Up before Berol this morning.” Berol worked the early shift at the goat farm outside town. He was usually the first one up.
“You sure you shouldn’t be resting? You don’t have to work so hard.”
“I want to be useful. I have to be useful.”
You are, Enid thought. Maybe part of Olive resting was just leaving her alone to mourn the miscarriage and recover in her own way. Which maybe meant making too much bread.
“Tea?” Olive asked as Enid sat and took up a knife to smear cream on a slice of toast.
Olive smiled broadly; such a little thing could please her. She bustled between the stove and counter to get the pot ready—of course, she already had water heated. When the tea was poured, Enid wrapped her hands around the earthenware mug to soak in the warmth, breathing in the steam, and tried not to nag too much.
They made small talk about the weather and the town, the late summer market coming up and which of the outlying households might travel in, which of their far-off friends might visit. Usual gossip about who was sleeping with whom and whether the grain harvest was going to be over or under quota, and if it was over, would the committee let a couple of fields go fallow next year, though some would grumble that with a surplus the town could support a couple more mouths, hand out a couple more banners. Folk always wanted more banners.
After breakfast Enid helped clean up but only got as far as wiping down the table. Olive had already taken the plate and cup from her hands to put in the washbasin.
“What’re you up to today, then?” Olive asked.
“I’m off to see if the clinic needs any help. Work’s been slow lately.”
“It’s good that work’s slow, yeah?”
When Enid had work, it meant something had gone wrong. “It is.”
She put a vest over her tunic, took her straw hat from its hook by the door, and went outside. Didn’t get much farther than that and stopped, seeing Tomas coming down the walk toward her.
Tomas was a middle-aged man, his silvering hair tied back in a short tail, his face pale and weathered, laugh lines abundant. Average height, a commanding gaze. He wore his investigator’s uniform: plain belt and boots, simple tunic and trousers in a dark brown the color of earth, much deeper than any usual homespun or plain dyed brown.
A charge lit her brain: They had a job.
“Up for a tough one?” he asked in greeting.
“What is it?”
“Suspicious death out at Pasadan.” His frown pulled at the lines in his face.
Enid stood amazed. She had investigated thefts and fraud, households that tried to barter the same bags of grain or barrels of cider twice, or that reneged on trades. She’d broken up fights and tracked down assaults. She had investigated bannerless pregnancies—women who’d gotten pregnant either because their implants had failed or, more rarely, because they’d thought to have a baby in secret. Keeping such a thing secret was nearly impossible—to her knowledge no one ever had. Though she supposed if they had managed to keep such a secret, no one would ever know. If you asked most folk, they’d say a bannerless pregnancy was the worst of the work she did. The hardest, because she would be the one to decide if the case was an accident that could be made right, or a malicious flouting of everything the Coast Road communities stood for.
Murder had become rare. Much rarer than in the old world, according to the survivor stories. It still happened, of course; it always happened when enough people lived in close-enough quarters. But Enid never thought she’d see one herself. And maybe she still wouldn’t; suspicious death was only suspicious, but Tomas seemed grim.
“Maybe you’d better come in and explain,” she said.
Tomas made himself at home in the kitchen, settling into a chair at the table.
Olive, still at the counter kneading bread, looked up. “Hey! Company! Can I get you some tea—” The bright greeting was habit; she stopped midsentence, her eyes widening. It was the uniform. Always a shock seeing it, no matter if an old friend like Tomas wore it.
“I’d love some tea, thanks,” Tomas said. “How are you, Olive?” His tone was friendly, casual—an everyday question, not the pointed one Enid and the rest of the household had been asking her for the last week, and so Olive was able to give him an unforced welcome.
“Just fine,” she said, wiping her hands on a dishcloth then scooping fresh leaves from their jar into the pot. “If this is about work, I can leave you two alone . . .”
“It’s all right,” Tomas said. “You’re busy—stay.”
Olive finished prepping the teapot, then went back to her dough, slapping the fourth batch into a smooth loaf, round and puffed and smelling of yeast.
“So what’s this about?” Enid asked. Suspicious death was frustratingly nonspecific.
“A committee member at Pasadan requested the investigation. Man in his thirties, no other information.”
“That’s maybe thirty miles south, yeah?” Enid asked. “Not a big place.”
“Couple hundred folk. Stable enough, mostly subsistence farming and some trade. Healthy community, everyone at regional thought.”
“But are they really thinking murder?”
At the counter, Olive stopped kneading and glanced over, blinking disbelief.
Sam wandered in then, barefoot, shirtless, all wiry body, brown skin, and ropy muscles. Her Sam was thin but powerful. Folk thought he was weak, until he hefted fifty-pound bags of grain on his shoulder with one hand. He stood fast in storms.
“Murder? What?” he muttered sleepily, then saw Tomas and the uniform. “Oh, it’s work. I’ll go.” He started to turn around.
“Stay, Sam,” Tomas said. “Have some tea.”
Sam looked at Enid for confirmation, and she hoped her smile was comforting. This would be all right; this was her job, after all. And Sam was family, part of what made her able to do the job. Someone to come home to.
“Morning, dear,” she said, and kissed his cheek.
He sank into a chair at the kitchen table and accepted a fresh mug from Enid. “Murder, you said?” He tilted his head, a picture of bafflement. Who could blame him?
Tomas continued. “No one’s said the word ‘murder,’ but they want us to check.” He turned to Enid. “You up for that? You’re due to carry this one as lead.”
“Well, yes. Someone’s got to, I suppose. But—are there witnesses? What happened?”
“Don’t know yet. They’ve saved the body. We’ll see what we see.”
“If they’ve got a body on ice, we ought to hurry,” she said.
“I was hoping to foot it in a couple hours, after we’ve had a chance to go through the records.”
Well, that was her day planned then, wasn’t it?
“Is everything going to be all right?” Olive asked.
They all looked to Tomas, the elder and mentor, for the answer to that, and he took a moment to reply. How did you answer that? Certainly, most things would be all right for most people. But they never would be again for the dead man, or the people who loved the person he’d been.
“Nothing for you to worry about,” Tomas said. “That’s our job.”
Our job. Investigators, moving through communities like brown-draped shadows of ill tidings.
“Oh, I’ll always worry,” said good, sweet Olive, and the smile she gave them was almost back to normal. Then she sighed. “At least it’s not a banner violation.”
She’d become deeply sympathetic to households caught in banner violations. Wanting a baby badly enough could make someone break the rules, she’d say, and then insist she would never ever do such a thing herself, of course. But she could sympathize. After all, you could follow all the rules, earn a banner, and then nature plays a cruel trick on you.
On the wall above the kitchen door hung a piece of woven cloth, a foot square on each side, a red-and-green-checked pattern for blood and life: their banner, which the four of them had earned. They’d all come from households that put their banners on the wall as a mark of pride. This was their first, and they could hope there would be more. Then Olive had miscarried. They had a banner and no baby to show for it. Enid kept telling Olive that they had time and more chances. No one could take the banner away.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn is a recommended murder mystery set in an agrarian post-apocalyptic society. The world collapsed decades earlier and survivors of California have regressed into small towns along the Coast Road where enclaves of people are organized into households. The new society controls population growth and has strict guidelines that must be followed for farming the land. If a household proves that can take care of themselves they may be awarded a banner. The banner represents a child that the household can have because having children is a privilege in this society. Bannerless follows two different stories set in two different timelines. Both feature Enid, either as a twenty-seven-year-old investigator or when she was a teen. In the present day Enid is an Investigator. She and Tomas, another Investigator, have to travel from their home in Haven to Pasadan in order to investigate the possible murder of a man named Sero. This is Enid's first murder case and she is determined to do a good job at discovering what really happened. In the end her investigation leads to even more questions about what happened and why it occurred. In the timeline from the past a teenage Enid travels with Dak, an itinerant musician who travels up and down the Coast Road, singing and playing his guitar. The plot is set far enough in the future that details about the collapse aren't really well known. The narrative is interesting, but the world building feels like it is lacking. The focus is really more on small, limited aspects of this new society and the investigation. The Investigators carry notebooks, which seemed very odd and felt out of place to me. There are also some things from the past that they have carried into the future, like intradermal birth control implants and some solar powered cars around, that just felt like anomalies. The travels of teenage Enid actually detract from the story rather than explain her current choices or aspects of her personality. It might have been better to just briefly explain how she knew Dak from the past rather than spend so much time on their travels. It didn't add to the story. While I liked this novel, I didn't love it as much as I thought I would. This is a quick read, perfect for escapism or a beach read. You won't need to concentrate on the story in order to follow it. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Ahoy there me mateys! I received this sci-fi eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. So here be me honest musings . . . I had previously read and enjoyed Carrie Vaughn's young adult sci-fi novel, martians abroad. When I saw that she had a dystopian murder mystery sci-fi coming out, I was excited to read it. And it exceeded me expectations. The story is set "after the fall" in the coastal United States. The coast has flooded. Cities have fallen. The world is slowly rebuilding. The novel follows Enid, a young Investigator who helps police the towns along the Coastal Road. That job involves anything from helping people in the aftermath of storms, settling disputes, or in this case, investigating an extremely rare potential murder. This book totally worked for me based on the strength of the world-building and Enid's character. It was a thrilling character study of one person living at the beginnings of a new era. The people in Enid's part of the world have been rebuilding through generations in an agrarian society where people live in structured households and must earn the right to bear children. Going against the norms are frowned upon because no one wants to repeat the mistakes of the past. When an outcast in another town is found dead, an investigation is requested. Enid takes the lead on her first major case where the stakes keep getting higher. Now the murder mystery was a fun background but is not the true point of the story. This novel is really structured around Enid's life both past and present. This involves the fantastic use of flashbacks that help the reader understand some of the reasons Enid chooses to take the steps she does in the solving the crime. Enid is inherently curious and wants to be helpful. Because of the fall, society has lost so much knowledge. While the rest of the people seem to be focused on the future, Enid ponders both the past and the present. This is a dystopian with an optimistic outlook. I would love to have Enid on me crew. I enjoyed the glimpses into why the world fell, the societies that exist outside the coastal road, the seemingly realistic mix of old technologies and new, the strong place of women in society, and above all watching Enid's journey. I will certainly be reading more of this author's work.
Zombies. Natural disasters. Pandemics. Planet of the Apes. The Walking Dead. Fallout. I am Legend. 2012. As a nation, we are obsessed with end of the world scenarios. I am always annoyed when a new movie or TV series premiers, because what more can be done? And then I’m completely sucked into it. What would it look like if we rolled multiple scenarios into one story? We would be smack dab in the middle of Carrie Vaughn’s Bannerless. Hola! And welcome to Haven! Founded by doctors and biologists who saved vaccines and reconstructed antibiotics; essentially making Haven feel like the center of this dystopian novel, as well as our main character’s home. Enid has only known Haven. She grew up in the Plenty household, appropriately named for the 30 members living there. Although this common, expected even, it is apparent Enid is interested in a less traveled road. This ear after “The Fall” essentially has the foundation of your life already mapped out. The only change available is if you were to break the rules. Even with most of your life planned out, there are bound to be troublemakers- that’s where the investigators come in. Collectively disliked and well avoided by all towns, their brown uniforms a dismal foreshadowing of only bad things to come. That doesn’t stop Enid from making friends with an investigator named Tomas. Growing up, any time Tomas would go on an investigation Enid would always volunteer to help- volunteering turned into her career choice and Tomas went from investigator to Enid’s enforcer. Enid is approached with investigating a murder in a nearby town. Usually, it was just your ordinary: *Thefts and fraud *A household trying to barter twice the amount of grain or cider they are allowed to *Reneged trades *Breaking up fights *Tracking down assaults *Bannerless pregnancies What makes this one suspicious, no one is admitting to seeing the murder, just admitting they need help cleaning up the mess. Enid is determined to prove this was indeed a murder, and not an accident. Her most convincing evidence is a bloody hand print at the scene of the crime. Will Enid convince the town of the murder they already knew about? Or will Enid discover something else the town is trying to hide?
One hundred years after the Fall, people are living simple lives. Along the Coast Road (think California) people live with strict rules for having children and wasting resources. People must prove that they can take care of a child before they are allowed to have one, they will have a green and red banner. Those that have a bannerless child are severely punished and shamed. Enid is a young Investigator, this world’s police. Enid and her partner Tomas are call to Pasadan to investigate a death of Sero. Initially it looks like a suicide but things are not adding up and it is starting to look like a murder. While investigating, Enid thinks it strange how quiet the residents of Pasadan are about Sero’s death. It’s also a strange coincidence that she runs into her former lover, Dak in Pasadan too. The story then bounces between the present day investigation into the death and flash backs of Enid’s time with Dak. This was an interesting take on the dystopian story. The Coastal Road has found if they work together in communities they can flourish in this new world. Those that obey the rules get the chance to reproduce while those that don’t have their communities broken up, divided, and shamed. The main problem we see is the bannerless, those that both have children with no banner/approval and the child. I liked the idea of the world and how it has regrown from the ashes of a former world. The thing that got me though was the fact that everything is simpler yet you have the advanced abilities to produce birth control. There were a couple other things like that that made this feel out of place. Also, the mystery doesn’t seem to play that big of a part in this story. It feels more of a story of Enid and how they have recovered from the Fall. Overall this is a good story. I see that it will be the first in the Bannerless Saga and I am excited to see where Carrie Vaughn is going to take it from here. I received Bannerless from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for free. This has in no way influenced my opinion of this book.
Bannerless (Paperback) by Carrie Vaughn Carrie Vaughn is the master of apocalyptic worlds. This story like many of her others is written to show human nature. When the end comes it is not a bang or a whimper but how events will change your personal life. The Change in other places will be sad, islands swallowed by the sea on the other side of the world is part of life. The storms and economic problems affect our everyday life. In the end it's the personal tragedy that changes our world. It is the personal apocalyps that makes it become the end of days. Yet, mankind will go on, in a different fashion, hopefully with more control, looking at the group not the individual. Bannerless looks at the value of the personal responsibility, to yourself, to your offspring, to your community and those that surround you, in the end to the world in general. Life will give you lessons, life will give you storms, and life will give you love, it's what you do with it that makes it worth living. A great book for comparison to other apocalyptic stories. A contrast to how things will end how they will affect the individual and like Ayn Rand, this book speaks volume of human nature, and what we have is what we make of it. I can see this book in the middle school classroom, discussed and analyzed. Looking at the nature of responsibility, the nature of assumption, and the value of the individual. This book speaks volumes of social engineering, but also great for expressing the reason for bully proofing, and how we can really make social change. Thank you Carrie Vaughn for giving teachers the stories we need to teach.