Agatha Christie whodunit job this one. I'm not even sure that the plot
relies on the famous laws of robotics, or even on the futuristic `womb
city' landscape for its realization (it could probably have been well done
in a cowboys and indians scenario), although Asimov's exploration of the
place and the psyche of the people living in it are deeply interesting.
The neck-cringing part of it is that the detective keeps making mistakes
that are blatantly obvious, and when he is told about them anybody in the
real world would just disappear to be replaced by a more intelligent
individual. For example, his first mistake is to accuse a robot of not
being a robot, but he could easily have dismissed the idea by asking the
robot to prove himself.
An earth-based detective (where the people of earth are now all living
underground) is teamed up with a robot from an isolated and superior
civilization that split from earth centuries earlier, to investigate a
murder in that civilization's earth-based quarters (above ground) which was
committed by a member of the underground community (the people upstairs
know no crime...). After several rather stupid misses, it turns out that
the detective's own boss was aided by a robot to supply a weapon (and
dispose of it afterwards) to commit the crime. The implications of the
whole affair are, however, much deeper as the superior race has a hidden
agenda to convert humanity to a civilization of their own form which
incorporates robots (it is for the good of both parties - to get earth's
population out of the caves of steel into outer space, thus ensuring the
longevity of the species). Unfortunately I find the leap from the detective
story to the global consipracy story too tenuous.
All told, I'm surprised by the success the robot novels got given that
this was the original installment. Its successor, The Naked Sun, is
much better as a detective work that relies on the alternative universe for
its plot and has a more intelligent working.
It is easy to be dismissive of this original with the benefit of
hindsight, knowing that better things have happened since, and the truth is
that this is a good book in its own right, albeit not the classic I was