A to Z Book Review: The Dispatcher By John Scalzi

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

My letter “D” pick on my A to Z reading list for 2022 was The Dispatcher by John Scalzi. I caught this on Audible for free, but I’ve always liked Scalzi, so it was an easy pick. I was not disappointed.

Though a short read (or “listen” as it was on audio), it was no less compelling. The premise is this: somehow, for some unknown and never explained reason, murdered people now come back from the dead. They return to the place they considered home, naked and in the same physical state as they were several hours before their untimely end.

This creates all sorts of fallout. Murder victims can now identify their killers – and of course, don’t stay dead, so murder rates go down. This also creates a new profession with it’s own set of skills: Dispatchers.

Dispatchers are hired by hospitals to administer a supercharged pulse of nitrogen directly into a failing patient’s brain, killing them instantly. This heals the critically wounded and buys more time for very ill patients or after surgeries that take a sudden turn for the bad. The patient will return, and the doctors can attempt to treat them again after reviewing whatever previously went wrong. This is the scenario that opens the book, and we begin with a bang (literally) as we meet our protagonist, Mr. Tony Valdez, a dispatcher who undertakes his job in the operating room with compassion and efficiency.

While all of this is completely legal, some Dispatchers (including Tony in his younger days) take side jobs for rich clients, sometimes in morally gray areas. One such Dispatcher is an old friend of Tony’s, and he’s now gone missing after doing some shady business for a wealthy client. When a tenacious detective shows up and enlists Tony in the search, the story wanders into a clever (and sometimes uncomfortable) discussion of privilege and the real definition of what it means to be alive.

The ending wasn’t a surprise revelation, but I didn’t feel cheated by that in the least. This story was fascinating, and the voice of the piece intense. If you listen on audio, Zachary Quinto’s narration is utterly masterful.

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