The Horror Honeys: Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week!

Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week!

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh 

I had been seeing mentions of Shovel Ready for a few months now, authors I trust tweeting that they were reading advanced copies, so anticipation was high on this one for me, and I am so excited, because it totally lived up to my expectations in the two short days it took me to read it.  

In this near-future yarn, New York City has been mostly abandoned after a dirty bomb shook Times Square.  For the most part, people fled to the suburbs or traveled west to the rest of the country, which was unaffected.  There's a beautiful passage late in the book detailing this “Incremental Apocalypse” (totally my new band name, by the way) - “No zombie overrun.  No alien armada.  No swallowing tsunami.  No catastrophic quake.  Just the gradual erosion of the will to stick it out.”  

The people who still live in New York fall into two general categories, the seedy underbelly of society, some living in a tent city in Central Park, all dreadlocks, dirty faces, and hunger, or the ultra-wealthy, who have checked out of reality and spend their entire existence in special beds, connected to a new sort of virtual reality, referred to as limning, or tapping in, or going off-body.  With nurses tending to their bodies and feedbags hooked up, people are able to “live” out their wildest fantasies (some much darker than others).  One thing though, if someone should come upon you in your tapped-out state and decide to kill you in the real world, the theory is that you're stuck in the limnosphere forever, living out a specific moment in an eternal loop.  Some people even orchestrate their own real-world deaths in a carefully timed bid to “live” out their most ecstatic memory forever. 

Remaining in the hollowed-out shell of New York is our putative hero, Spademan (a carefully chosen alias), a former garbageman whose talents are being used in a different way these days as a hit man.  He is careful to note that he feels no guilt over his targets, insisting that it's his clients who should feel guilty – he is merely the instrument they wield.  He does have some rules – he does it for the money, he doesn't care what your reasons are for employing him.  He kills men and women, but not kids because, as he notes, “that's a different kind of psycho.”  Having had my heart broken by the terrible last season of Dexter, I found special joy in a sequence in which Spademan asks how us as the reader how we would feel about him if he only killed other serial killers...........and what about child molesters, or how about if he only killed people who talk loudly in movie theaters, or block escalators?  Spademan – asking the tough questions!

Spademan's latest client is noted televangelist T.K Harrow, all silver-tongued sincerity and political clout.  Harrow's new venture is called “Paved With Gold”,a Heaven for those who can't wait to get to Heaven.  Harrow contracts with Spademan to find his teenaged runaway daughter, Grace Chastity, who has betrayed him, run away and is somewhere in New York, living under the name Persephone.    Spademan works his contacts to track down the missing girl and when he does (no spoiler here, it's made abundantly clear right off the bat that Spademan is good at his job), he finds Persephone is carrying a secret, one that makes his job a lot more complicated than normal.

As Spademan faces off against some worthy adversaries with his trusty box-cutter and a few hardy sidekicks, the reader dips in and out of real-world New York and the ever-fascinating limnosphere.  The pace is fast and the dialogue is staccato.  Even the book spacing feels deliberate.  

Spademan is reminiscent of Richard Stark's excellent character Parker, a man who spoke little but said plenty.  With Stark's recent passing (Donald Westlake), finding worthy successors like Shovel Ready and my other much-loved recent read “The Hard Bounce” by Todd Robinson, makes me hopeful as a reader.   

You guys know how much I love apocalyptic porn, futuristic speculation, and noir, right? Well, Shovel Ready is like all my favorite genres got together and created some amazing book baby.  Sternbergh is said to be working on a second Spademan novel right now and I can't wait to read it.

Hardcover Honey verdict - 5 slimy preachers out of 5 for this mind-bending mash-up!