Author: Adam Sternbergh
Release Date: January 14th, 2014
Publisher: Broadway Books
Source: Blogging For Books
Genre(s): Crime, Noir
When it’s time to bury someone, you need a spade. In the near future of bombed New York, you need… Spade…man?
Adam Sternbergh released his novel Shovel Ready, the first in a planned series, from Broadway Books. The hard-boiled noir features a near-future New York and a hitman who makes his way through the vacated city. Making his way, in this case, meaning taking hits from strangers and killing folks with box cutters. That’s his jam.
In Shovel Ready, Sternbergh takes a noir anti-hero and places him into a pseudo sci-fi world. This doesn’t seem too novel of course, but since Sternbergh’s sci-fi isn’t too far off it plays fine. The streets of New York are mostly empty following dirty bomb blasts and other terrorist activity, but people still live there. Instead of walking the streets they spend their time living in the “limnosphere,” think a hyper realistic alternate reality internet and you won’t be far off. The wealthy live secured in their buildings while the poor lay in cots accessing their own virtual dreams. As it turns out, in a world where most everyone has checked out of their real lives already, there are still grudges to be had. That’s where Spademan comes in. You give him a call. You only get one. Give him the name and payment and that’s the last you’ll hear of it. Shovel Ready’s job comes when the daughter of a celebrity preacher has gone missing. The caller wants her found and dealt with.
The book works despite having a few hiccups in execution. Early on Spademan understands that the hit was ordered by the father of the runaway girl, Evangelist T.K. Harrow, but I’m still not entirely sure how he figured this out. Later Spademan, who up to this point we believe to be a killer sure, but one of those hitmen with a specific code of ethics for his work, dispatches a guy hooked into the limnosphere I guess because he didn’t like him? Again, not clear. Aside from these two points I didn’t have any problems with the rest of the story, and they both happen early enough that the story earns forgiveness by the end. You just kinda have to go with it a bit at the start.
The secondary setting of the story, the limnosphere is, as I said, a juiced up internet where most folks would rather live. This reminded me an awful lot of OASIS in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One though it is not nearly as well developed or utilized, (that said, I didn’t think Ready Player One was particularly great either) an unfortunate comparison it no doubt has to deal with for every new reader. At times, the action enters the virtual reality and for me loses any sense of stakes it hoped to achieve. Having two men beat our hero mercilessly feels empty when everyone is aware it isn’t real and has no true consequences It has its place in the plot but it wasn’t an interesting enough take on the topic to warrant the use.
At 243 pages it is a surprisingly quick read, very dialogue heavy and incredibly sparse on punctuation Don’t expect any quotations or dialogue tags to guide you through. This has the unfortunate tendency to cause confusion, as there’s no differing between thoughts and spoken words other than context which can be missed if you’re reading as fast as this book allows.
This no doubt sounds like I didn’t enjoy the book, which is not the case. It is an entirely serviceable story and entertaining through most. The negatives I had don’t outweigh the few bus trips of enjoyment I got out of it, though they are puzzling. If you’re looking for a fast read to scratch that hard-boiled itch, but you need something new, check it out. Knowing the core of the book works I’m going to give the second book, Near Enemy a shot.