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New York City has not been the same since terrorists attacked Times Square with a dirty bomb. Since the attack, the city has been in a downward spiral of violence and crime where only the rich are safe - behind heavily guarded doors. Both rich and poor have become addicted to a new type of drug – virtual reality simulations where they “tap in” to a whole other world, sometimes for days at a time.

This is the setting of Adam Sternbergh's novel, Shovel Ready, which immediately gripped me. The book is written in first person from the perspective of Spademan, a garbage man turned hired killer. Although the voice in which the novel is written annoyed me at first, I eventually found Spademan’s matter-of-fact descriptions and deliberately emotionless narration served to bring the bleak and hopeless world to more vivid life. I was compelled to read on as the world sprang to life in my imagination. I’m not sure if the setting was easier for me because I work in New York City, and thus personally connected with the references to the various locations, or if it was simply because any city turned to chaos by fear and apathy never seems too far fetched.

Spademan is a quintessential antihero; morally depraved, emotionally absent, not even driven by a desire for revenge for a past wrong (though it is hinted that he may develop that desire in the next book). He is not very likable... in fact, none of the characters in the book are likable, and they all do horrible things, yet still they are compelling. I was reminded of American Hustle  in that none of the characters were good guys, but I still wanted the worse ones to lose.

For all of Sternbergh's vivid world-building and engaging plot, the book had its flaws. I found the main issue to be the lack of character depth. A few of the main characters have back stories, the rest just exist in the story alone, but there is little to inform motives for anyone’s actions. Even Spademan can’t explain why he decides to get involved in the life of one of his targets (the decision that drives the plot). This would be fine if it was revisited and examined as his relationship with her was built, but it was never satisfactorily developed. And while history has proved that a character doesn't need motive to be a fantastically evil villain (look at Shakespeare’s Iago), the shallow motives for the antagonists’ actions really left me feeling like a lot was missing. Overall the last quarter of the book seemed rushed, and this was the section that had the most potential for really digging deeper (see what I did there?).

This book is not one I would normally have picked up to read. While I enjoy dystopias and post-apocalyptic settings, I tend to steer away from crime novels, so I am glad that it was on the Blogging for Books list and I decided to branch out. Despite the novel's drawbacks the plot was compelling and I am looking forward to Sternbergh’s next Spademan novel.

For more info on the book or to purchase it, visit the RandomHouse website.

*I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.


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