Monday, January 27, 2014

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh: a review

GoodReads Blurb:

Spademan used to be a garbage man. That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before his wife was killed, and before the city became a bombed-out shell of its former self. Now he's a hitman.

In a New York City split between those who are wealthy enough to "tap into" a sophisticated virtual reality for months at a time and those left to fend for themselves in the ravaged streets, Spademan chose the streets. His clients like that he doesn't ask questions, that he works quickly, and that he's handy with a box cutter. He finds that killing people for money is not that different from collecting trash, and the pay is better. His latest client hires him to kill the daughter of a powerful evangelist. Finding her is easy, but the job quickly gets complicated: his mark has a shocking secret and his client has an agenda far beyond a simple kill. Now Spademan must navigate the dual levels of his world-the gritty reality and the slick fantasy-to finish the job, to keep his conscience clean, and to stay alive.

My review:

In honor of YAStands morphing into Pub Hub, this is the first of my adult book reviews. But don’t worry—I’ll still be reviewing YA, especially when I come across one that really blows me away.

But today, I wanted to share with you an extraordinary adult dystopian, Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh.

A while ago, I wrote a post about what adult fiction could learn from YA. Among other things, I mentioned the lack of adult dystopian—and a certain over-reliance on retreading the familiar in adult spec fic.

Well, let’s just say Shovel Ready made me eat my words.

It’s dystopian—I’d almost call it post-apocalyptic, because that’s the only way to describe New York after several major terrorist attacks made it barely livable. The man character, whose name we never learn, used to be a garbage man (yes, I complained about too many PI’s and cops in adult lit, and it looks like I got my wish). In this new world, however, he makes ends meet as a hitman. And business is good, until someone sends him on the trail of a runaway daughter of a televangelist.

This book is more than just a dystopian. It’s equal parts noir, cyberpunk and thriller. There’s a virtual reality with a darker side, dive bars, and a particularly creepy BDSM club. Characters have more issues than Rolling Stone and everyone has some kind of dark and troubled past.

(In case you haven’t gathered that from pretty much all my reviews, that makes me a very happy reader.)

The prose is staccato and minimalistic, which I suppose is not for everyone but in my case, it only had me turning pages faster (and this book is a fast read—I was done in a few hours). And okay, don’t throw tomatoes at me but after a long time reading nothing but YA, it was kind of a relief to have a storyline taken to its logical uber-violent, bloody extreme, and not toned down or softened. The author unflinchingly shows the grittiest aspects of this world, creating a brutal, immersive and well-developed ‘verse that I might not want to live in but I sure would like to keep exploring. Sadly, there’s no indication this might be a series, but if it were, I would definitely keep reading.

If you like cyberpunk, dark fiction and particularly twisted antiheroes, this book is definitely for you.

I give Shovel Ready five stars. 

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