Shovel Ready, by Adam Sternbergh

I received a free review copy of this ebook from Edelweiss, on behalf of the publisher. 

17834909People call him with very specific problems. He doesn’t want to know why. Spademan only wants a name. Then, like the garbageman he used to be, he will take care of your problem by making someone disappear. He only has one rule. He won’t kill kids. When his latest target turns out to be a pregnant girl on the run from her preacher father, Spademan finds himself becoming an unlikely hero in Adam Sternbergh’s Shovel Ready.

I shouldn’t have liked this book. It’s written with two stylistic gimmicks that I loathe. I guess it proves how talented a writer Sternbergh is that I didn’t get annoyed by all his one-sentence paragraphs and didn’t lose track of who was talking with all the unmarked dialog. In Sternbergh’s hands, these devices lent a noirish realism and immediacy to the tale of Spademan becoming more than just a man who makes problem people disappear.

Spademan lives in Hoboken, but he works in what’s left of New York after a series of dirty bombings gutted Manhattan. Only very serious clients call him and Spademan thinks of himself as a bullet. He hits wherever someone fires him. It’s easier for him if he doesn’t know why the client pulled the metaphorical trigger in the first place. His job is surprisingly easy, given the state New York is in nowadays. No one wants to rebuild a place that won’t be safe for several half-lives, so the police only guard the rich. No one investigates anything. Still, Spademan is careful. When he gets the call to “remove” Grace Chastity Harrow—known as Persephone—Spademan doesn’t think anything of it. He even buys her breakfast, since she’s been living rough for weeks. Then he spots her five-month belly and smacks up against the only rule he has left.

As Spademan goes to work for Persephone, protecting her from her preacher father, Sternbergh reveals what happened to New York and what happened to Spademan to turn him into the man he is. Sternbergh also shows his protagonist beginning to wonder about the people pulling the trigger. He doesn’t feel remorse for what he’s done in the past. He knows he’s not a good person. But then, Persephone isn’t exactly a good girl, either. She can handle herself, which she credits to her newly discovered motherly instincts. Her father just has too much firepower he can send her way. Together, Spademan and Persephone make a hell of a team.

Shovel Ready deserves all the praise I’ve seen reviewers and critics showering its way. This was a thrilling read. It’s dark, gritty, with plenty of challenging ethics to keep you pondering even after you’ve read the last page.

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