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Hard-edged American noir in a bleak near-future
on 19 December 2013
Shovel Ready is a savage, stylish stab at a convincingly chilling near-future. It's blunt and brutal, written very much in the manner of the modern American novel. The result is a slim but gripping book, a plot in constant movement set in a starkly possible dystopia which feels as if it could be just around the corner.
In this tomorrow, New York has been hollowed out by fear and economic collapse following terrorist attacks. It's an underworld, populated by parasites, the helpless and the hopeless. Anyone who can afford the fees jacks into a virtual world where online evangelists sell the perfect paradise. We hitch up with the nihilistic Spademan and are dragged through the gutters with him.
Don't expect much in the way of detailed description or extended explanation. The main characters are deftly but sparsely drawn, their histories revealed only when the action pauses. Brutalised by events and emotional trauma, Spademan views himself simply as a bullet and his victims' deaths as inevitable. What could be a predictable storyline - he can't bring himself to kill a young woman on the run and instead winds up as her protector - sidesteps the clichés of traditional gumshoe noir and subverts expectations with violent intensity and a couple of nifty plot twists that caught me by surprise.
Shovel Ready is a short slice of vivid realisation; easy to read, in the main, and delivered with the assurance of an accomplished author. However, the stylised use of speech as standard text does make it hard to tell the difference between narration and speech at times. So instead of adding to the atmosphere this stunt-storytelling device actually detracted from the action while I puzzled out whether someone was speaking at the time...