City and the City is another style of detective novel: the police procedural. The protagonist is Inspector Borlú, of Extreme Crime Squad. As in most police procedurals he works within a system where he has to please his superiors, push his subordinates to do their best, cooperate with 'good' colleagues and come into conflict with 'bad' cops. As is also common in many police procedurals, Inspector Borlú has to go rogue to solve the mystery and close the case.
The culture clash while working to solve a crime is reminiscent of the Canadian movie Bon Cop, Bad Cop. Of course, the two cultures are Eastern European(ish) with a hint of Christian-Muslim conflict (although its more Christan-Muslim v. Athiest than anything else).
The atmosphere of the City takes a page from the British urban crime mystery genre. An economically depressed city suffers from an underpaid and overworked police force and an active criminal underclass and corrupt ruling class. Ultra-nationalism. There is no fantastic science in evidence, just a very strange way for a city full of people to live. It is the world-view of the city that makes the book worth reading.
Two cities with a different political and economic system, and distinct cultural mores, share the same geography. Citizens are trained from childhood to completely ignore their opposite city. Mieville ingeniously portrays a world where one must 'unsee' the other city: to willfully and deliberately ignore and avoid anything that is happening in the other city even if its happening right beside you. Failure to do so is harshly punished by Breach, a mysterious organization that acts from the shadows. This socio-political petri dish of a culture (ha!) is well constructed and deftly explored by Mieville.
Jeff VanderMeer on The Best of 2009
China Mieville's The City & The City contains a perfect evocation of an imaginary Eastern European city. Culturally and texturally, Mieville's novel worked well for me, and the writing is to die for. However, as the book progresses the unwieldiness of the central conceit — overlapping cities — and the idea of "unseeing" works less and less well. Mieville's ever more laborious efforts to explain things slow the book down, especially toward the middle, and underscore the somewhat thin characterization. (For an interesting reading experience, pair Mieville's novel with the excellent Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction, edited by Mark Bould and Mieville and the recent issue of the scholarly journal Extrapolations devoted to exploring Mieville's fiction.)
SF REVIEWS.NET: The City & the City / China Mieville ☆☆☆☆
The City & the City is China Miéville's best novel since The Scar, and the tightest and most politically observant of his career.
The City & The City by China Mieville: book review | Bookmarks Magazine