Book review: Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

With its snappy dialogue and knowing noir tropes, this futuristic thriller happily takes cues from detective tales past.



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Photographer: Lauren Spinelli

Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

By Adam Sternbergh. Crown, $24.

New York Times Magazine culture editor Sternbergh’s first novel is a thrilling noir set in a dystopian, near-future NYC. The book centers on hard-boiled former garbage collector Spademan, who becomes a paid assassin after a Times Square bombing divides the city into haves and have-nots. In the wake of the tragedy, Manhattan’s wealthiest retreat to their fortified luxury apartments to waste away in the “limnosphere”—a virtual-reality fantasyland designed to provide the user with every imaginable kind of escape. Meanwhile, everyone else is relegated to the margins of the boroughs, surviving by whatever means required.

Spademan walks the line between these two worlds, a hunter hired by the moneyed elite to solve their problems using little more than a box cutter. When an influential evangelist solicits him to “take care of” his wayward daughter, Spademan finds himself at a moral and ethical crossroads.

Sternbergh adroitly delivers shadowy adventure tropes within a surprisingly breezy read. The author’s well-drawn and often funny characters speak in crisp dialogue, and his terrifying vision of a bombed-out and bifurcated Gotham is eerily plausible. With its uncanny capacity to sound like Raymond Chandler on a sleepless cyberpunk jag, Shovel Ready feels postmodern in its anxieties and retro in its rendering.

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