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"A nameless investiagator dogs New York streets made even meaner by a series of near-future calamities. [Larson’s] distopia is bound to win fans..."
"The Dewey Decimal System is a winningly tight, concise and high-impact book, a violent, exhilarating odyssey that pitches its protagonist through a gratuitously detailed future New York."
--New York Press
"The Dewey Decimal System is proof positive that the private detective will remain a serious and seriously enjoyable literary archetype."
A nameless investigator dogs New York streets made even meaner by a series of near-future calamities.
Sometimes he calls himself Donny Smith after the name on his phony ID. Sometimes he calls himself Dewey Decimal after his passion for rearranging the disordered books in the Fifth Avenue branch of the New York Public Library. But he never calls himself by his real name, because he lost it in the endless disasters—a series of explosions, three economic collapses, the invasion of the Superflu—spun out of "the 2/14 Occurrence(s)" that decimated New York's population. Now Daniel Rosenblatt, the unelected D.A. who seized power amid the post-apocalyptic rubble, needs the obsessive system-builder for another routine errand: to make sure community leader Yakiv Shapsko, a Ukrainian émigré, doesn't do any more union organizing. Dewey, bent on murder, finds Shapsko, loses him, then goes to his home and finds his wife Iveta, who's well able to take care of herself. After Shapsko tries to hire Dewey to kill Iveta, and he returns to his own office only to find three intruders there, Dewey realizes he's stepped into something bigger and darker than he'd imagined—something presumably connected to Iveta's ex-lover, shadowy Serbian warlord Branko Jokanovic. The complications that follow mostly involve well-armed thugs and conspirators going to early graves, most of them sent there by Dewey.
When it comes to plotting, film composer Larson is content to follow Raymond Chandler's dictum, "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun." But his dystopia is bound to win fans with strong stomachs.
Always the same dream.
As the sound fades and the hush returns by degrees to that massive chamber, my heart rate slows and indeed I know exactly where I am: the Main Branch of the New York Public Library at the juncture of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, in the City of New York.
I can't relate in exact detail what led me here, but this much I can tell you: I am a man of mixed ethnicity, from the borough of the Bronx. I freelance from time to time for the government of the City of New York. Or at least what's left of it.
I am, or was, a soldier, in a landscape without features, save for the funnels of sand the wind might kick up, and the occasional cluster of low buildings. In this antispace there were long periods of time where nothing whatsoever occurred, and we were very hot. When shit did happen, it did so very fast, in a flourish of blood and bits of metal and fiberglass. Even so, it all seemed so very half-assed. Hard to take seriously.
Like a bad movie you didn't really want to watch, but settled on for lack of options.
And, you know, I was a husband and a father. I think. But that was before.
I sit up, rifle through my suit jacket for a cigarette, and find none. Despite the relative quiet, I'm not alone here ... a mother and son have an old hot plate going nearby, staring intently into the pot, mother holding a potato aloft, presumably waiting for the water to boil.
I'm surprised they found a working outlet. Take stock of its location should I need to charge my shaver. This might be one of the last public buildings that draws off of the city's skeletal power grid.
Have a job here at the library. I'm taking care of the books. But more about that later.
Beyond the Madonna and child, other human forms are scattered here and there, adrift and irrelevant.
Irrelevant, that sounds cold. But for as much as the city has been transformed, there's one thing that's truer than it ever was in this town, and that's this: if you don't have a direct line, a Batphone, you not going to make it.
I, people, have a direct line.
Speaking of which, my pager hums. It's the DA. Check the code: tells me I need to get down to the office pronto.
Hop up, fasten my belt. Spritz on a little Purell™ and wring my hands. Purell™ is a must-have go-to kind of thing for me, a cool breeze in a hot world of crazy.
I sleep in my suit: fuck it. Saves time. Step into my wing tips, roll up my bedding, shove it all into my army-issue bag, and stow it on a low shelf with my jerky, stash of pistachios, and bottled water.
Nobody will so much as touch my gear. They know who I am, and, more importantly, they know who I know.
Dry swallowing my wake-up pill, I'm down the worn marble stairs and out into the piss-warm drizzle; I slap on my hat and tap the northernmost lion's stone haunch as I pass by.
This is part of my System. Left on Fifth Avenue. All important, to follow the System. And use Purell™, especially after you've touched a public edifice.
Rain mutes the pervading odor of burning plastic and garbage. Midsummer, indeed the first summer after the events of February 14.
The smell loiters even now, reliable as death; that's the plastic. The trash odor stems from the waste holes in what was once Bryant Park.
In accordance with the System I take the left on 42nd Street. Prior to 11 a.m. I will only execute left turns. Headed to the B train.
Show my laminate to the female Marine, she bids me proceed, and I descend.
Improbably, the subway soldiers on, thanks to federal funds earmarked for the "Great Reconstruction." Exactly who is responsible for allocating the cash within the city is unknown to me, but I can tell you it ain't done with the public good in mind. First priority would be lining the pockets of many a shady character downtown, as well as the various construction warlords who swarmed the island post–2/14.
That's the real, and no effort is made whatsoever to disguise this fact.
Subway service (now fully automated) is strictly reserved for city employees, dignitaries, and those who are liquid enough to lay a healthy donation across the right sweaty palm. Trust me, such folks are few and far between. Plus, if you can hang with such heavy bribery, why the fuck would you be taking the freaking subway? Chances are you've already headed inland and are holed up behind gates at a compound upstate, or in central Jersey. Away from the water, away from possible future "occurrences." God bless.
Some of us need to work. Some of us have a System.
Just me on the platform. The water looks to be about ankle deep on the tracks, rats paddle by in schools. The very sight of them makes me reach for that Purell™ again.
A D train, then an F, piloted by some distant computer. I board the B when it pulls in.
The System protects me, keeps my thoughts structured. There are rules, sure: When riding the New York City subway, it's essential to begin with letter trains (A, B, C), and then only in alphabetic order. If traveling more than four stops, it's essential to transfer to a number train (1, 2, 3), and in a perfect world the first transfer should be an even number.
It's no disaster if that's not a possibility, I'm just saying: the more you work the System, the more the System works for you. For this reason I switch to the 6 train at Broadway/Lafayette.
I share a car with a group of Transit Authority cops. Uniforms mismatched. The biggest one gives me the once-over, clocks the laminate, nods in my direction.
I touch the brim of my hat. It's an effort to keep my face composed. Funny, no? After everything I've been subjected to, to the limited extent I can remember particulars, I'm jumpy around cops.
I take my pulse and count backward from ten, employing the System. Exiting at Canal, I exhale, feeling the cops' eyes on the back of my neck.
I'm thinking I need to double up, so I pop another pill and emerge into the hot haze, the dank barnyard of Chinatown.
No exaggeration: I'm kicking aside chickens as I move south on Lafayette, handkerchief to my lips. Solid petri-dish stuff, a misting of bird flu, swine flu, dog flu, mad cow, tuberculosis, and worse. Look-alike faces swarm and jabber. SARS masks.
I might be fluent in Cantonese but that doesn't mean I want to stop and have a conversation.
I finger the single key in my front pocket.
And, needless to say, I whip out the Purell™.
Using a System-based technique I block out the human static and meditate on today's possible activities.
Excerpted from THE DEWEY DECIMAL SYSTEM by Nathan Larson Copyright © 2011 by Nathan Larson. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted May 10, 2011
No text was provided for this review.