First published in January of 2014, US author Adam Sternbergh’s debut novel ‘Shovel Ready’ formed the writer’s debut release into the world of literary fiction.

DLS Synopsis:
When the terrorists hit Times Square with a radioactive dirty bomb just an hour after they had hit the nearby subway, everything in Spademan’s life irrevocably changed.  Now New York was nothing but a dilapidated wreck - a seemingly endless campaign of terrorism and radioactive fallout having left the once great capital of America now just a desolate shell of its former self.  But most devastatingly to Spademan’s life was the loss of his wife – his Stella.  But now she’s gone, and with her so his old job went.  He used to be a garbage man.  But not anymore.  Now he takes out a different type of rubbish.  Now he’s hired to kill.

He doesn’t harbour any guilt for what he does.  After all, he’s just the bullet.  The death will have to rest on the conscience of whoever paid for the hit.  He doesn’t want to know the reasons why.  He doesn’t want the backstory.  Their justification for the murder.  And that’s exactly what he tells this next caller.  All he needs is a name, along with a few more key details, and then for the necessary payment to be made.

He’s told the target is an eighteen-year-old girl named Grace Chastity Harrow.  Better known as Persephone.  He’s not bothered about her being female or eighteen.  He’ll kill women just as easily as men.  He doesn’t discriminate.  But he won’t kill children, because that’s a different kind of psycho.  Eighteen’s an adult’s age.  So there’s no problem there.  The only concern Spademan has is that the girl is the daughter of the most famous evangelist in America.  And with celebrity status comes a higher risk.  One that the caller is happy to pay for.  And with the money transferred, Spademan begins his search for the girl – starting off with the hippy camps in Manhattan.

However, it’s a job that will soon throw up a mushroom cloud of problems.  Spademan never gets involved in the reasoning behind a hit.  But this time he has to say no.  This time he’s drawn in.  This time there’s something much bigger behind it all.  Something rotten.  Something that leads back to when the city first started to go downhill.

With half of what remains of the city’s population permanently ‘tapped in’ to the wholly-immersable virtual reality internet, dubbed the limnosphere, Spademan will have to work his way through the decaying city’s dirt and squalor to find the girl and ultimately the truth behind this hurt and corruption.  And in the end, it’s all about the choices you make, and those you side with.  And sometimes, you just need to go with your gut, and start cutting in the other direction…

DLS Review:
What author Adam Sternbergh serves up here is a gritty dystopian suspense noir that wallows in a downbeaten future where life has become cheapened and the grimy streets of New York are almost a forgotten wasteland for the undesirable.

Like a grim cross between Kathryn Bigekow’s ‘Strange Days’ (1995) and Luc Besson’s ‘Leon’ (1994), with definite elements of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘No Country For Old Men’ (2005) thrown in - all of which are set within the decaying shell of New York – the tale finds itself sliding into the fan-friendly territory of the cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic subgenres, whilst gradually unravelling the suspenseful mystery behind the girl – Persephone – and her father’s Crystal Corral church where the pathway to heaven is paved in gold.

The character of Spademan is a hard-boiled anti-hero affair in a similar vein to someone Shaun Hutson might dream up – although admittedly fleshed-out to a much higher degree here.  Although our principal protagonist’s actual name is never revealed (nor indeed his wife’s) this only helps to further build up the complex picture of the character.  Very much like the character of Leon in Besson’s previously mentioned film, Spademan is a man of morals and strength of conviction.  Underneath his hard-baked tough hit man exterior is a man who will make the right decision if confronted with it.

Equipped with his trusty box-cutter (the non-branded US name for a Stanley knife), Spademan is a coldblooded killer, who won’t think twice about ripping open the throat of anyone he’s been employed to kill.  And it’s this complete juxtaposition of sides to the character that make the tale work so well.  Essentially the plot is about going against the ‘easy route’ and following your morals.  And, like with ‘Leon’ (1994), this struggling contrast within the principal protagonist is the very backbone of the tale.

Written in what I often reference as a Cormac McCarthy style of prose, Sternbergh goes for a very punchy and straight-to-the-point approach; often utilising dialogue-rich chapters to keep the explanatory side of the tale roaring ahead at the same pace.  Sternbergh also injects a fair helping of dry wit which keeps much of the grim and miserable backdrop from overpowering the tale.

For all its punchy raciness and standing true to a thoroughly hard-hitting plot, the tale does start to flag in energy and drive in the latter half of what is nevertheless quite a short book.  For the first half Sternbergh does his best to get immersed in the gritty dystopian-urban-decay of the whole setting, whilst weaving in a suspenseful storyline filled with mystery and teasing suspicion.  However, this careful layering and inter-weaving begins to fall away once a vast chunk of the mystery element is removed, and instead the tale seems to slowly fall in on itself as it trundles along to a less-than-impressive ending.

The novel runs for a total of 243 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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