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A first novel and showing it, Box Nine is a police drama—narcotics division—with a curious handle: the female cop protag is a closet psychopath. And that's not to say you don't like her or disagree with her, even. She's somewhat within moral bounds, if you agree that capping suspected lowlifes is cleaning up the gene pool for the rest of us.

Plotline is familiar: a new drug has hit the street and a new madman—who actually turns out of be the most articulate and pragmatic mouthpiece of this tale—is taking over the New Jack City-esque slumsection of town, headquartered in the Hotel Penumbra. That's how this author's mind works—penumbra, with streets around like Ziesing and Umberto avenues—and also exampled by the new death high of Lingo, an ingestion that accelerates speech/thought to subsonic speeds until talking sounds like cicadas buzzing, followed by homicidal rage. It's not much of a stretch to see its symbolic import as communications technology, wheelchairing us to that special place in the sanitarium called the Overwhelm Room. Then there's the US Postal Service as the planned distribution center for this new brain fry.

Action high point of the novel? Our heroine shoots a teenage stoned hooker off a telephone pole. Yeah, not much mayhem except psychological explosions among the characters, but this is a literary crime tale. It is quite fragmented, with a lot of character withholds, and absurd, credibility-smashing scenes that pander to subtext over content. What are we to make of the badguy's library with floor-to-ceiling empty shelves(1)—I'm wildstabbing that Kindle, internet technology, etc. has usurped hands-on paper bindings—or a roof that opens to astronomical observances of the universe?

The author calls this transgressive culture “limitless and surreal, postmodern vice”(Mysterious Press, ISBN 0892964723, 309 pages, p.87). Is there any doubt he's not really interested in solving a mystery, let alone a crime?


1) Cortez says, “the joy started to leave. . . And it became too painful to keep them around”(p.271)



© copyright 08/14/2013 by Larry Crawford

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