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In previous posts I have noted my puzzlement (and sometimes dismay) with the books Mystery Writers of America nominate for their Edgar Awards. Sometimes the stories are unbelievable (in a literal sense), or too predictable or in one memorable case just downright boring. When I finish reading such books I scratch my head and wonder aloud how MWA could even consider them for an award. Happily this is not the case with Matt Haig’s The Humans, a book thoroughly engaging, funny and bittersweet.

While you could expect that MWA’s nominations would be in the mystery genre, The Humans skirts any real classification. Yes, murders take place in the story but there is no mystery to be solved because we know the main character is the killer. And he’s a killer with a mission. He is a Vonnadorian, an alien from an advanced planet who has come to earth to abduct and murder Professor Andrew Martin, a Cambridge University mathematician who has recently solved the Riemann hypothesis, a mathematical problem heretofore unsolvable. His achievement will allow the human race to advance as quickly and as far as the other advanced life forms out there.

This is a threat to the rest of the cosmos because based on humans’ history, it is feared they will be aggressors and try to take over everything. So faux Andrew is sent to wipe out all receptacles, human or mechanical, that know about the Riemann hypothesis solution. Vonnadorians revile humans and think they are “…a life-form of, at best, middling intelligence and prone to violence, deep sexual embarrassment, bad poetry, and walking around in circles.” (p.26/Nook)

So the narrator has assumed Andrew Martin’s body physically but has none of Andrew’s memory or understanding of how things human work. We are treated to a hilarious series of episodes as he learns to cope with earth and civilization on a daily basis. The Vonnadorian Andrew “appears” on earth, naked as a babe, trying to find his hometown and home. Eventually, he is arrested for public indecency and held for observation because he’s been under tremendous stress. Remanded to the psych ward, his wife Isobel visits him and tells him to rest.

When Andrew finally makes it to his home, he meets his son Gullliver, an angry and depressed teenager who hates his real father for being self-absorbed and for neglecting him. He also meets the family dog, Newton, who is a wise and compassionate friend to Andrew.

The story evolves as Andrew tries to carry out his mission to kill those knowing about the professor’s solution, but his experiences with his family and friends wear on him. Emily Dickinson cajoles him. He becomes human. Not a great surprise there, but one that is handled with aplomb and some neat surprises.

On a scale of one to ten, this book is rated a nine.

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