Things have gone bad in the New York of Adam Sternbergh’s novel, really bad and at the bottom of it all is one man, and his devotion to his job.
Set decades (we’re never given an actual timeline) after 9/11, NYC falls victim to another spate of attacks, culminating in a dirty bomb in the middle of Time Square. Combine this almost apocalyptic event with the advent of a new virtual reality system that lets you ‘escape’ to the World of your choosing, with the rich having the best and the poor getting the scraps, and you have the dystopian nightmare that is Shovel Ready.
Sternbergh has created in ‘Spademan’ a hitman with a central moral core: only kills adults-never kids, asks no questions-doesn’t need a reason and until he gets a job to ‘hit’ the daughter of a wealthy pastor he’s stuck to this code. His ensuing investigations show that this is not going to be an easy job and he’s initially wavering away from his rules until a revelation makes his mind up for him. From that point, ‘Shovel Ready’ becomes a fast, involving, humorous and very bloody race to save the girl and wipe out the bad guy.
With nods to Philip K. Dick, James Ellroy and even a little bit of Elmore, Sternberg puts together a tight little thriller that manages to dip it’s toes into several genres, yet never feels messy. By not utilising speech-marks (which admittedly takes some getting used to) the prose flows quickly and sharply, in the beginning having an almost stream of conciousness/personal recount feel to it.
The only reason I haven’t given it the full five stars is for it’s length. There are a couple of places where I felt a little more depth to a situation or character wouldn’t have gone amiss, but I’m hoping this isn’t the last we see of Spademan and his gang of survivors.
Review is of an advance ebook copy received via NetGalley and is no way indicative of the final copy.