Book Review: It Hurts Every Time by LP Mills

Words: Andrew Tucker
Thursday 01 February 2024
reading time: min, words

As low-level dystopia becomes a hazard in our day-to-day lives, local author LP Mills offers us a full dose in his new cyberpunk mystery novel...


Just as I finished reading It Hurts Every Time, the new cyberpunk mystery novel from Nottingham’s LP Mills, the digital billboard next to the tram stop was kind enough to inform me that Elon Musk’s company Neuralink had just lodged the first computer chip within a human brain, granting one brave pioneer the ability to respond to videos of natural disasters with cry-laughing emojis on Facebook without the danger of anyone physically restraining them.

As this news and the mainstream success of programmes like Black Mirror demonstrates, dystopia is no longer the preserve of eclectic pipe-smokers like Aldous Huxley - dystopic moments are becoming as mundane to us as potholes, are we’re now ready to believe that new tech like Elon’s Chip will be allowed to run away with itself before our ageing legislators have had time to lace their brogues.

Into this zeitgeist comes It Hurts Every Time, in which LP Mills takes us to a city even more baffled than our own, to the dingy ‘post-communist’ landscape of Morrisette. Here we find Pluto Garcia (his mother was eccentric), a lieutenant of the city’s ‘Community Militia’ and every bit the sleuthing hero of a black-and-white noir film, as he sets about solving the murder of philanthropist Krishna Klein.

Here we find Pluto Garcia, every bit the sleuthing hero of a black-and-white noir film

The most worrying advance in this world is ‘Tryp’, a drug which, if taken in time, can prevent death by shunting the taker into a parallel universe, although not without a few regrettable side-effects. It is not giving too much away to say that Pluto is in need of a life-saving dose immediately as the book begins, and much of the rest of the story plays out against the backdrop of the pharmaceutical consequences that follow.

Mills uses kaleidoscopic worldbuilding to bring Morrisette to life. Four factions jostle for control: the Bureau, the Guild, the Union and the Militia, each with certain ideological orientations, all of whose seedy motives overlap and conflict with one another. In the cyberpunk tradition, this is a city caked in grime: the Community Militia’s base, for example, is an ‘arcane tangle’ of shipping containers and tarpaulin built by anarchists in the waterfront district, among ‘gridlocked streets seeping in heat and pollutants’. This place wears its often barmy excess with pride, stuffed with life and sin; with handguns, half-empty pill bottles and liver damage.

‘I am logging this attack as evidence in the case despite the fatal wound not being administered in the reality in which this document is being filed.’

LP Mills, It Hurts Every Time

Pluto’s mission, which builds alongside his relationship with tired, frizzy-haired auditor Esther Dupont, provides our path through the run-down metropolis. Mills is working within a well-established genre. Yet there is a lightness of touch here - Garcia has a scar on his thumb sustained from opening a tin of cat food, for example - that lends a unique tone to the twists and turns of the plot.

The book that can be dense with the unfamiliar; each chapter begins with inscriptions from fictional songs and philosophers, feeding into an alienating wonder, building the sense that we too have side-stepped into an adjacent universe. And although this foreignness requires us to be switched on, it offers rewards for doing so, as locations like Piston Central, characters like Madame Syndicat, groups like the Liberté Enforcement Corp become familiar to us and the circumstances of Krishna Klein's premature end become clearer.

And while I’d think twice before booking an AirB&B city break in Morrisette, I’d much sooner recommend picking up Mills’ novel, if you’re after your fix of cyberpunk mayhem, than installing anything made by Elon Musk into your cerebellum. It Hurts Every Time is a roaring work from an author with command and imagination - a dystopia that’s worth the Tryp.

You can buy the book here.

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