If you’ll forgive the pun, I’m a bit out of my depth here. How do I describe a book that only took me two sittings to finish but has a fair bit that needs shoring up?
Simone is a private detective tailing Henry St. Michel, a balding, dumpy, fifty-something importer/exporter whose rich wife Linnea suspects of having an affair. She might be right; Simone has tailed him to an expensive restaurant where he meets an attractive blonde. Heavy fog and a personal phone call prevent her from getting many details, but the phone call isn’t all bad–her best friend is calling to give her notice that she sent an attractive client her way, a researcher looking for a city guide. deCostas is looking to find the mythical ‘dry tunnels’ the city was building before funds and time ran out on re-connecting NYC to the mainland. Simone agrees to chaperone deCostas as she continues to work on the St. Michel’s case. Unfortunately, in short order both Henry and Linnea disappear and Simone is left floundering.
Character-building was interesting. Like many book detectives, Simone has a disabling inability to trust others. Her closest friends are Caroline Khan, the deputy mayor from a prominent Korean-American family; and Danny, human computer posing as a psychic; and occasional support from Peter, NYPD and ex-lover. Its the kind of mix that updates the noir tropes in an interesting way, except that Rosen plays their negative characteristics a bit too strongly without equal attention to developing care and concern. The details of their caring are all historical and their ‘friendliness’ are often displayed as taunts; I wish moments of kindness had shown through to help show why they care.
“Simone arched an eyebrow. ‘Don’t get enthusiastic about the idiot stuff, Danny.’
‘So I should be like you and save my enthusiasm for cigarettes and silly hats?’ he asked with a smirk.”
I largely enjoyed the writing. There’s a bit of soggy prose in the beginning, attempts to write in a noir fashion that don’t take: “She glanced at [the phone], and as she did the fog swirled open for less than a heartbeat, then closed like a lover’s kiss.” Honestly, I don’t even know what that means–Tongue? Softly? Passionately? Color me confused. Once the narrative dives into the plot, those instances are minimized and more appropriately focused. But dear heavens, why on earth did the editor allow 150 mentions of Simone’s smoking/cigarettes? (I’m guessing it was a little less once per page). Lev must have been jonsing, but it doesn’t explain the editorial pass. It takes more than a cigarette habit to build a character, and the reader (me) shouldn’t be so sick of her habit that they’re ready to drown themselves in drink. I will note that Simone often info-dumps background on a character as they meet up.
“The green light of algae generators pulse through the fog here and there, giving the view an eerie glow and, through it, the silhouette of the skyline bursting from the sea. It wasn’t the iconic skyline of the past–just the top, with wide plains of oceans between crumbling towers, and large boats floating low on the horizon, like a steel archipelago.”
One of the most intriguing aspects is the world-building. I admit, it’s the hook that caught me (besides Emily’s review). Honestly, I never thought about New York’s seawater risk until Hurricane Sandy, and stories of flooded subways and streets started making headlines. I know that’s probably a no-brainer, but NYC has always seemed to live in bubble of environmental isolation, and NY is about the human culture, not the beaches. At any rate, I enjoyed the vision of a NYC flooded below 21st floor (although that’s about 35 times more than current projections). Some ideas feel eminently realistic: oceanliners as buildings, rickety bridges, a cavalier attitude. Some parts less so. Explanations are quickly technoed (see, I can make up words as well) with FluoriSeal (for your hair, not your teeth), DrySkin (waterproof coating), MouthFoam (drug) and GlassSteel (building coating), so mileage may vary. It feels a little like those J.D. Robb books with the police detective zooming around in an aircar but really are just set in 1990. World-building also includes a super-conservative mainland, with NYC acting as an island of indecency. Do you think Rosen is implying something about current views?
Last, but never least in a mystery, is plotting. A couple reviewers complained about predictability; I don’t agree, but I only guess endings is when I’m re-reading Agatha Christie, so take that for what it is worth. I rather thought it was Byzantine, perhaps attempting to weave in a few too many red herrings (how’s that for an utter mess of a metaphor?). There’s a reveal at the end that made no sense to me, and another death that seems both pointless and unnecessarily risky.
Overall, I’m kind of drifting here. I think I’ve been as harsh as I have because there is clearly so much potential for something expansive and moving. I enjoy it, but would like my ‘liking’ to take less conscious ignoring. Honestly, my advice would be to drop the editor. It looks like her contributions are mostly in the non-fiction and lifestyle fields, and a story like this needs someone with strong sci-fi or mystery asking the hard questions.
I’d read a sequel, but it’ll take a bit for it to drift to the top of the to-be-read pile.