Review: Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

 

Before dirty bombs turned the island of Manhattan into a ghost town, Spademan was a garbage man. After he lost his wife in the attack on Times Square, he turned to the escape of the limnosphere – a virtual reality that exceeds the functionality of the internet. To access the limnosphere, one requires special equipment. Expensive equipment. The rich have retreated there almost permanently, their bodies entombed in special beds where they are tended by nurses who plug feed bags into IVs and wipe their bums afterward.

As an out of work garbage man, Spademan is limited in his resources until someone asks him to do them a favour. Armed with his wits and a box cutter, Spademan embarks on a new career, that of hitman. He has access to incinerators and a dead body is just another form of garbage, right? The killing part, well, Spademan has a few rules to govern that. He’ll kill men and he’ll kill women, because he doesn’t like to discriminate. He draws the line at killing children, however, because in his words ‘that’s a different kind of psycho’. Good to know.His latest target barely qualifies as an adult. Also, she’s habouring a secret that is something like a pile of garbage. The deeper you delve, the more rotten it is.

Having found satisfying work as a hitman, Spademan no longer frequents the limnosphere. But that’s where he has to go to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Shovel Ready: A Spademan Novel by Adam Sternbergh is going to be a book you’ll instantly like or dislike. The first three pages do it few favours; the first person narrative is interspersed with snippets of dialogue that are not quoted and tagged. I actually wondered if Spademan was schizophrenic. I then wondered what it would be like to read an entire book from the perspective of someone who did not know their own mind. I settled into the style with remarkable ease, however, captured by Spademan’s voice – his droll observations, the vaguely post-apocalyptic setting, and the fact this guy accepted contracts for no other reason than it was his job. The dialogue is cleverly written. Tags aren’t necessary, as it’s always clear who is speaking – except when it doesn’t have to be. You almost get the feeling that these scenes are presented to you as recollections or interpretation, meaning you have to trust Spademan’s view of the world.

The narrative also has a very noir feel, which is seductive. There is a reason why this style works well within the mystery genre. The reader wants to know what the protagonist is thinking and why. They generally agree that the rest of the world operates at an inferior level, and is worthy of their disdain. Sternbergh does this well, but Spademan isn’t the sort of guy you like because you have to, because it’s his story you’re involved in. He is genuinely likeable, fixation with box cutters aside.

The cast of secondary characters is interesting, my favourite being Mark Ray. I wish he’d been used more in the climax of the novel, or more relevant to it. His backstory adds a weighty thread to the plot, however.

So, yeah, I liked the book. In fact, I really liked it. I found it easy to read and digest, even while the mystery deepened. Also, the mystery aspect was appropriately dark and pretty damn cool.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

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