This disappointing postapocalyptic thriller from Edgar winner Winters (Underground Airlines) boasts an irresistible setup: in the near future, California is a sovereign state governed by absolute truth, and telling a lie can result in jail time or worse. Laszlo Ratesic, a veteran police officer whose innate ability to know when someone is lying helps him piece together unsolved crimes, investigates the death of a construction worker who fell off of a roof during a job. The seemingly accidental fatality is filled with anomalies, which leads Ratesic and the young female officer he’s mentoring to uncover a grand-scale conspiracy with staggering implications. While the story, in which every second of the populace’s lives is meticulously recorded, is tonally comparable to Orwell’s 1984, the thematic impact simply isn’t there. Some of the societal elements seem contrived, such as how every citizen must archive every single life event in a journal, and the reveal at the end is too nebulous to be completely effective. Winters’s exploration into the nature of truth will grip many readers, but this ambitious novel misses the mark. Agent: Joelle Delbourgo, Joelle Delbourgo Assoc. (Jan.)
Tell a fib, a whopper, a confabulation in California, and, promises Winters (The Last Policeman, 2013, etc.), you'll wind up in a heap of trouble.
"Any assault on reality, any infusion of falsehood in the air can't be countenanced, no matter the source." Lying weakens trust, which damages society. It also spoils one's breakfast. Laszlo Ratesic is just tucking into his chicken and waffles as Winters' yarn opens, but then he, a noted "speculator" in the employ of the Speculative Service, happens to catch the tail end of a prevarication. "Somebody's telling lies in here," he pronounces, "and it's making it hard to eat." It's Ratesic's special skill, shared by only a few, to be able to ferret out lies as they're being hatched, in this case by a kid who's been stealing his mom's pills and takes it on the lam, to Ratesic's joy, since "it's the part I like: pure law enforcement, my feet in the boots and the boots on the ground, me breathing heavy and charging after a liar." Alas, even in the independent nation called Golden State, there are those who would adorn and adjust the truth, even when it comes close to Ratesic—say, in the matter of the deceased brother for whom he continues to mourn. And are things really all that horrific out in the country that lies beyond the Shangri-La of free California, where the vaunted "Objectively So" may differ in kind and degree? Well, the mind plays tricks, and so does the tongue, and Ratesic finds himself caught up in a web that even he couldn't foresee. In some details, Winters' story might have fallen out of a forgotten file drawer at Philip K. Dick's pad, though Winters takes a less bleak view of humankind than the master of bad-vibes future California; though somewhat less surprisingly inventive than the author's Underground Airlines (2016), it's still a skillful and swift-moving concoction.
For those who like their dystopias with a dash of humor. No lie.
"At a time in the real world when everybody seems to own their version of the truth and phrases like "alternative facts" are used to cover falsehoods, Golden State is, no lie, a fascinating examination that takes fidelity and correctness down a freaky Orwellian path."USA Today
"Winters has a knack for creating appealing detective fictions that skew reality in thought-provoking ways, producing a hybrid of the familiar and the uncanny. . .
. As you read, you feel your perception of the world slipping and warping. Winters brilliantly imagines the quotidian manifestations of a truth-obsessed culture."Washington Post
"Once again, Ben H. Winters creates a world cleverly skewed a few crucial degrees from our own. . . . Winters is well aware of the tropes of dystopian noir, and it is fun to watch him mix and match them to good effect. . . . The detective plot works well, but it is in its questioning of the nature of truth and falsehood that the novel excels. . . . Smart, intricate and propulsive, Golden State is proof that Winters deserves our continued attention as one of crime fiction's most inventive practitioners."San Francisco Chronicle
"Mr. Winters has won major awards in both the mystery and speculative-fiction genres. The brain-teasing Golden State exists in a space where those two forms coexist. As a consequence, a sympathetic reader's imaginings may persist long after the book's puzzles have been solved."Wall Street Journal
"Nothing speaks to the power of a weapon like it inspiring a work of speculative fiction, and Ben H. Winter's Golden State is the dystopian take on the new tool of war du jour: lies."Paste Magazine, 'One of the Best Books of January'
"In Golden State, Winters has fashioned a wry commentary on our current era of fake news."The Guardian [UK]
"An entertaining new take on the venerable genre-blending of noir and science fiction."The Los Angeles Review of Books
"Like any good dystopian yarn,Golden State shows . . . how any organization or government can warp good intentions into truly harmful ones."The Verge
"An entertaining, unpredictable read."Financial Times
"A perfectly poised ontological-thriller-comedy-dystopian-allegorical-page-turner, yet with tenderly real characters in its chewy center, this turned out to be just the thing I was looking for."Jonathan Lethem
"Not many writers would take on Orwell, Ray Bradbury, the nature of truth, and the current administration all at a blow. Big shoes to filland they fit Ben H. Winters just fine. Golden State grabs notions of disinformation and literalism and brilliantly turns them on their head to see what falls from their pockets."James Sallis, author of Drive
"Golden State is a prescient, devastating commentary on humanity's disintegrating attachment to reality and truth, expertly told through the prism of a police-procedural, dystopian nightmare. Winters has written a 1984 for the 21st century. Not just a thrilling book, but an important one."Blake Crouch, author of Dark Matter
"'Golden State' is science fiction at its finest, a propulsive narrative filled with complex ideas that are expressed by engaging characters who occupy a rich and detailed world."The Maine Edge
"an ambitious and frighteningly timely novel."The Nerd Daily
"Golden State is a gripping and brainy page-turner. . . . Winters is especially good at keeping his readers off-balance. Not even his biggest fans will see some of the twists and turns he's built into this, his best book yet."Library Journal, starred review
genre-bending . . . Winters seems to have a real affection for unusually compelling premises. Another fine novel from a writer whose imagination knows no bounds."Booklist
"A skillful and swift-moving concoction . . . For those who like their dystopias with a dash of humor. No lie."Kirkus
"Winters is an expert at combining social commentary with gripping mystery plots, and the novel never slows down enough to be accused of didacticism. With rich characters, frequent twists and tense set pieces, Winters always nails the hardboiled basics."Shelf Awareness, starred reviews
"This near-future thriller by Edgar winner Winters is likely to provoke discussion."Publishers Weekly
"Another fine novel from a writer whose imagination knows no bounds."Booklist
Speculator Lazlo Ratesic, a special agent of the Golden State, is charged with rooting out lies and deception and upholding the truth. He's given an assignment and an assistant on the same day, and what at first appears to be a routine investigation proves to have some disturbing anomalies. A roofer has fallen to his death while on the job, but when Lazlo probes deeper he discovers layers of deceit, leading him to conclude that something is rotten in the Golden State. This new work of speculative fiction by best-selling author Winters ("Last Policeman" trilogy) takes place in a fallen society that puts truth on a pedestal, fortified by foundations of precise and exhaustive documentation, and explores the dire consequences of doubt and a loss of faith in such a system. VERDICT Highly recommended for fans of dystopian fiction, especially those who enjoy classics of the genre, such as George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. [See Prepub Alert, 7/9/18.]—Karin Thogersen, Huntley Area P.L., IL