Proximity review: Privacy policy police work

We review Jem Tugwell’s futuristic sci-fi crime thriller, Proximity.

Having a smartphone in your head may sound like a great idea to some and to others, their worst nightmare. In Proximity, Jem Tugwell explores that balance with ‘iMe’; a compulsory surgical installation of a smart device in the head of every citizen of the UK.

Having sacrificed their privacy to an all-seeing, all-knowing tech company, the citizens of the UK have handed control of their freedoms over to the supposedly infallible iMe system. The implications of such an idea are wide-ranging to say the least. It’s not hard to imagine a Fitbit monitoring your body weight and food consumption, but what if it was able to restrict your purchase of a chocolate bar or force you to exercise?

With every aspect of life tracked and traced, solving crimes becomes as simple as pulling up a location history of a crime scene. As an old school detective yearning for the glory days of real police work, our protagonist, DI Clive Lussac, is a little frustrated with the world he finds himself in. So when the impossible happens and citizens start to go missing, Lussac has the opportunity to teach his young partner how they used to solve crimes back in the old days.

Tugwell employs an engagingly dynamic narrative style, constantly shifting character viewpoint between chapters, granting voyeuristic levels of insight into both the detectives and the suspects. Building into a compelling cat and mouse game, Proximity delivers the thrill of the hunt while subtly questioning the cost of convenience and the price of freedom.

On the surface, Proximity could pass as a relatively standard crime thriller, with a stereotypical grumpy old detective forced to work with an over-enthusiastic rookie to solve a case. However, when set against the backdrop of Tugwell’s fully realised future, the novel starts to uncover and develop new layers to familiar tropes.

There is a lightness of touch to Proximity which means that some of the more complex sci-fi themes can feel slightly hollow. However, this allows for an unburdened, fast-paced and riveting plot that twists and teases with the high stakes and flashes of violence that electrify the genre.

Proximity’s vision of our future is pleasingly tactile and uncomfortably viable, and makes you question your own feelings towards technology while barrelling along a non-stop chase to solve a crime.

Proximity is available now from Serpentine Books priced at £8.99.
Get it on Apple Books