Near Enemy, by Adam Sternbergh

22078949Until recently, Spademan’s life was uncomplicated. He was a garbageman turned hit man. He didn’t ask questions. He didn’t investigate. He just took care of things other people paid to disappear. Then Grace Harrow happened (see Shovel Ready) and Spademan started to ask questions. Adam Sternbergh’s Near Enemy starts with one of Spademan’s usual calls. A woman’s voice says a name and Spademan takes his box-cutter and tracks the man down. But when the man wakes up from his trip into the limn (immersive virtual reality) screaming about something impossible, Spademan’s newly awakened curiosity gets the better of him.

Lesser is one of the new generations of hackers in Spademan’s post-dirty bomb New York City. Lesser hops from limn-trip to limn-trip, spying on people’s darkest fantasies and blackmailing him. Small wonder someone wants him dead. But then when Lesser comes out of his latest trip and says that he just saw someone murdered in the limn (which is supposed to be impossible), Spademan decides to leave Lesser alone to find out if the hacker is telling the truth. Meanwhile, Spademan also has to protect Grace Harrow—now calling herself Persephone—from the fallout from Shovel Ready. (I lost count of the number of assassination attempts in Near Enemy, to be honest.)

Sternbergh’s protagonist Spademan lives with a strange morality. Because he is always an outsider, always an observer, he just doesn’t buy into other people’s arguments about terrorism or sin or the greater good. When the Lesser case blows up (‘scuze the pun) into a huge terrorist conspiracy, Spademan is caught in between corrupt cops and reformed hackers and his own code of ethics. It’s enthralling.

As Spademan tries to figure out what the hell is going on, Sternbergh does some subtle world building. We learn more about the origins of the limn and what happened the day the bomb went off in Times Square. We learn more about the Wakers, who want people to return to real life instead of wasting away in the limn. Spademan’s world is a gritty one, but it’s one that doesn’t seem too far-fetched as a possible future just a few decades away.

Near Enemy is written in what is becoming Sternbergh’s signature noir poetry style. Much of the text actually consists of one sentence paragraphs—something that normally bothers the hell out of me. Sternbergh makes it work. His style gives an Impressionistic sense of the once-great New York and Spademan’s unique perspective. In other hands, the one sentence paragraph is a punchline for an action-packed narrative. But in Sternbergh’s hands, it transcends that I once called “the bastard child of poetry.”

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 13 January 2015.


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