The Nervous Systemby Nathan Larson
A Barnes and Noble Mystery Book Club Summer Reading Pick!
"Dewey is a seriously weird dude, obsessed with Purell...and generally trying to survive in a world that's been unraveled from manifold disasters...Whiplash prose, teeth-gnashing dialogue and post-civilization concepts that make a crazy (amateur) librarian in a pitch-black world a hall of a/i>/b>
A Barnes and Noble Mystery Book Club Summer Reading Pick!
"Dewey is a seriously weird dude, obsessed with Purell...and generally trying to survive in a world that's been unraveled from manifold disasters...Whiplash prose, teeth-gnashing dialogue and post-civilization concepts that make a crazy (amateur) librarian in a pitch-black world a hall of a lot of fun...A good time for fans of the likes of Charlie Huston and Charles Stross."
"A taut, action movie-violent mystery that will appeal to fans of Larson's earlier novel as well as those who like dystopian literature."
"Larson's vividly imagined world and his quirky narrator are likely to win him a cadre of loyal fans."
"This doubleheader, the 'soft apocalypse' noir thrillers The Dewey Decimal System and The Nervous System by former Shudder To Think guitarist Nathan Larson, turns out to contain one of most inventive post-apocalyptic milieus I've ever come across... Two of the most legitimately exciting novels I've read in a long time, these had the rare ability to completely suck me out of my daily reality... taut genre actioners that belie the usual tropes of their genres, and which will undoubtedly be making our Best Of The Year lists come December"
--Chicago Center for Literature and Photography
"Sheer magic and delirious joy, this intellectual giddy riot is the book of the year. The Nervous System is a rock 'n' roll paranoid masterclass in invention, with writing so crafted, gifted, I long to quote every line. The mystery is taken to a whole new level of technospeak artistry, and wonderfully witty, like John Kennedy Toole if he'd written a mystery novel and did metha lot of it. The warmth of the character seeps through in Dewey Decimal's love for a devastated New York and still the city sings. The New York Public Library should put up a plaque to the most original PI since Marlowe. OCD never seemed so compelling. Loved itand then some. What a writer."
--Ken Bruen, author of The Guards
"I'm a sucker for a postapocalyptic setting, and Nathan Larson's is a doozy; but the real gold here is the voice. I could listen to this guy all day. If you loved The Dewey Decimal System, you'll love this one too. If you didn't love The Dewey Decimal System, it's because you didn't read it. That's okay, you can start here. Thank me later."
--SJ Rozan, Edgar Awardwinning author of Ghost Hero
"The Nervous System is an armed-to-the-teeth, punch-in-the-guts, post-apocalyptic page turner. You’ll be afraid to put it down."
--Maggie Estep, author of Hex
After a series of large-scale terrorist attacks, New York City is reduced to a shadow of its former self. As the city struggles to dig itself out of the wreckage, a nameless, obsessive-compulsive veteran with a spotty memory, a love for literature, and a strong if unique moral code has taken up residence at the Main Branch of the New York Public Library. Dubbed "Dewey Decimal" for his desire to reorganize the library's stock, he gets by as bagman and muscle for unscrupulous politicians and underworld figuresas detailed in the first book in this series, The Dewey Decimal System.
In The Nervous System, Decimal, attempting to clean up loose ends after the violent events in the first book, stumbles upon information concerning the gruesome murder of a prostitute and a prominent US senator's involvement. Immediately he finds himself chasing ghosts and fighting for his life, pursued by Blackwater-style private military contractors and the ever-present specter of his own past. Decimal
Read an Excerpt
THE NERVOUS SYSTEMA NOVEL
By Nathan Larson
Akashic BooksCopyright © 2012 Nathan Larson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMoment I cut through the nylon cord I'm up running, and hell no, I don't look back, slam through the stairwell exit, the bike chain still fast around one wrist, sprinting like I never thought possible, certain it's too late, that the Boogie Oogie Man will chase me down, burn me, fuck me, and kill me like he did those other kids, got no reason to think otherwise, too terrified to feel shame as I piss my Jordaches, taking the damp stairs three at a time, barely maintaining my footing, flat dirty-white Keds providing little traction, hear the man now come crashing out of his "art studio" two floors up, shrieking, I think of the Young Skulls colors I am leaving behind, that the beating I'll take from my brothers as a result of this loss is on balance worth it if I survive the moment, I'm four floors up in the semidarkness, moving, and can hear bass through the stairwell walls, bass from what must be a big-ass sound system, I can make out Zulu Nation, Black Spades, and Glory Stompers tags, poop both human and dog, rats of various sizes scattering as I skid down the stairs, behind and above me the echo of heavy footfalls and choppy breath, dude howling to himself in a language I don't understand, cannot believe that I am almost at the ground floor, take the last set of stairs in one leap, nearly fall on my ass, smelling gasoline and paint fumes, smash through the metal fire door into the hot loud night, block party in effect on Crotona Avenue, party really bumping and it's Memorial Day or Veteran's Day with dense throngs laughing and fighting and dancing with forties and red and blue plastic cups, nothing can be heard over the bass, it's the Commodores or some shit, I'm pushing through this wall of skin and sweat, smelling cheese and corn and burning pork fat with folks smacking me as I pass, I knock over an improvised grill, white coals and uncooked burgers go tumbling, trying to make my way toward East Tremont, I see the barricade and the black-and-whites and the cops, 41st Precinct so they might recognize me, but fuck it, pressing forward, so afraid, gotta tell them the Boogie Oogie is no urban legend, look back to see a big figure come through that fire door, put my head down to haul it but oh God I'm grabbed from both sides, arms tight in the grip of two grinning kids I went to school with, two Junior Reapers, screaming at them, "Boogie Man!" but the bass is too loud and I catch a fist with a roll of quarters on the chin, then another, then another, and my legs buckle and I slide to the concrete, positive now of two simple facts: the monsters are real, and no one, no one can save you from them. Not the cops. Not your friends. Not your mom. And certainly not your drunk-ass dad, who these days can barely scare up the energy to smack your mom down like he used to.
So rather than keep on running from monsters, I became one. Flipped the script on it, went on the urban offensive. Learned to hunt, rather than be hunted. Got handy with the necessary tools: fists, teeth, knives, and in time came the guns, progressively more sophisticated. Which served me well in the Marines, in future locales in every corner of this planet, both populous and barren, and still later in my service for an unnamed branch of the U.S. military, where I helped put the "black" in the term "black-ops."
And eventually as an inmate in military hospitals and facilities in Washington, D.C., where I truly learned about fear and survival. It was in these hospitals that I was robbed of my identity. Made incomplete. And it was there that my body and mind were restructured to suit even darker purposes.
With the collapse of the empire I had once served, militarized mashups like myself were made irrelevant.
So in the end, there was nothing left to do but drift home to the ruins of the city of my birth. And live on the outside, as a scavenger. As a monster.
* * *
Five hundred feet above the toxic East River, I clock a figure caterpillaring its way up one of three remaining suspension cables on the wreckage of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Moves a bit, stops. Maybe twenty feet from the very top.
Through these binoculars, of mid-twentieth-century vintage, I can't determine if the dude is sporting any kind of safety harness. All I can make out are orange coveralls and a bare head.
Don't see a work crew, it's apparent this guy is kicking it solo. Clutching at the heavy wire with thighs and elbows, flesh rubbed raw, no doubt.
It's a windy day too. The windows of this office on the nineteenth floor at 100 Centre Street rustle and thump.
I'm thinking, okay, dude can take no more. High diver. Another jumper.
And yeah, sure, from the dark, dominant side of my dome come these observations: here's yet another quitter, a weak bitch taking the easy out. Natural selection in effect.
One less mouth with which to compete for shitty food. One less set of lungs to battle for whatever oxygen remains in the blighted purple cloud that squats on Manhattan island and its lesser boroughs.
Not the kindest outlook but it's about survival up in here. You either make it happen for yourself or you fade out.
But fuck it. I'm just procrastinating.
Don't need to see how this shakes out with the climber. I've seen bodies tossed, jump, and fall from great heights before. And it's always less interesting than one imagines.
Drop the binoculars on the crappy industrial carpet.
No more digressions. Came here, to the former district attorney's corner office, to make double positive my tracks were covered. Not perv-peep on the suicidal neighbors.
Pull off the surgical gloves, lob them at the overflowing trash bin. Messy messy.
Produce a bottle of Purell™, squirt a bit in my left palm, and rub vigorously, scanning the room. The office appears exactly as it did on my last visit.
And my former boss, DA Daniel Rosenblatt, has been dead for, what, six weeks?
I should know. I shot the man myself.
Unhygienic elements abound. Like there, on the desk. Half a submarine sandwich, peppered with mold, a sad bit of pickle. Balled-up napkins, wax paper bearing the word Subway.
Get the shivers. Think, motherfucker: poor air circulation, floating spore colonies. Readjust my procedure mask to securely cover my nose and mouth.
But it's not the filth that bothers me most, cause for filth I'm more than properly equipped. It's the chaos, the disorder. The lack of methodology. My System abhors disorder.
And of course this makes my task here all the more difficult. See now: I've come to expunge myself from the official books. If indeed there ever were "books" as such.
Spent half a year in the dead DA's employ. Partook in activities I don't want to discuss. With anybody, including a possible successor. If he or she is a goodie-two-shoes, they'll wanna sully up old Rosenblatt's posthumous reputation. And mine too, by association. Should my name be anywhere in this room.
Judge not. The shit was a living. And it kept me in pills, pistachios, and Purell™. The three Ps essential to my continued well-being.
Donning a new set of gloves, I exhale.
Start with the filing cabinet nearest to me, planning to work my way clockwise around the room, and then dive into the stacks of loose folders and papers.
Fucking tedious, y'all.
See, DA Rosenblatt was an enthusiastic dirt-digger. Guess that's how he held his office. In the final analysis it was this tendency that got him dead. Had he kept his substantial nose out of the dogshit, well ...
Maybe forty-five minutes of solid rummaging crawl by, and I've learned:
—Former NYC comptroller dug she-men. Like a lot, like all the time. I actually don't get what the problem is there. His dime.
—Former comptroller Ray Stevens has or had a revolving stash of six- to ten-year-old Dominican/ South/Central American girls in the basement of his Hamptons hideaway, shackled to metal rings in the floor, if I read the photos correct. I dig what the issue is there.
—Former mayor is in business with Russian/ Chinese/Ukrainian crime outfits, and collects his pound of flesh from each and every construction firm in town. Shockeroo! I recognize some names in there, particularly the Ukrainians.
—Current state senator (representing the 15th Congressional District, just a touch over from the territory of my childhood) sired a child with a certain Korean hooker, who was then, most conveniently, found dismembered (along with the kid) in a barrel of kimchi. This led to the quote-unquote 32nd Street Massacre, which the NYPD has always claimed was triggered by their well-intentioned if clumsy attempts to quell a Korean turf war.
All flavorful stuff, none of it the least bit surprising or useful, unless I wanted in on the blackmail game.
Ha. A slow horse if ever there was one, blackmail, in these times. Not much of a racket. Nobody around to preserve your good name for.
After the large-scale destruction wrought upon New York City last February (known as the "Valentine's Occurrence"), the town stands at about one-tenth capacity. And since elections have been suspended, those in power can simply kick back and hang in. Who's gonna say different?
No, the blackmail thing just isn't my bag. Plus, I dig life too much, so I mind my own.
All these goddamn documents, but I'm no wiser with respect to my own status, and I'm in need of a piss break. Handy that the office has an en-suite half bath.
Mirror, mirror. Wringing my hands with rubbing alcohol over the sink, I spy a thin dark-skinned male of mixed piedigree, in a hat, tasteful dark brown suit, knitted charcoal tie. Maybe midforties, though that's hard to say, given that those of us who survived this far now possess that dried-up look of the malnourished yoga obsessive. Or a late-stage HIV sufferer. The blue surgical mask perhaps clashes, but it isn't an accessory; it's for my own protection.
Lean in for a closer inspection of my mug. My nose won't ever be exactly the same, and the amateur stitch job on my cheekbone has left behind a jerky swipe of discoloration. Lower the mask. The scab on my lips is constantly cracking, even now, so it remains practically an open wound.
If you observed me walking, you'd see that I have a fairly pronounced limp, and favor my left leg. You would too if you'd had your kneecap blown off.
Otherwise, I like to imagine I cut a dashing figure. Even the limp bestows a certain casual elegance. See me on the street, perhaps taking in the virulent air, you'd reckon I got a style all my own and tony places to be. Exclusive spots way out of your league.
Add the rubber gloves, the face mask, I reckon it lends a whiff of the mysterious. That is, yo, I like to think so.
Flip the lens and I present as just another black vagrant, rough-sleeper a couple inches from death, overdressed in bespoke kit. Stone crazy in SARS gear.
All in all I must say I've done okay for a bookish (if violent, as my environment dictated) ghetto child of the South Bronx. Survivor of wars domestic and foreign.
Check my left breast: the Beretta under my jacket helps fill out the sunken cavity where my heart used to be. The Sig Sauer achieves the same effect on my right side.
Symmetry. That's the System working for me, people. Watch and learn.
I pop a pill, get a smidge misty. Reminisce on it: Jew Rosenblatt used to keep my pill supply flowing, part of our quid pro quo. Now I get my shit from a military doctor in exchange for "protection," which is pretty hazily defined. I think the guy is under the misimpression that I'm CIA or mobbed up—or both. What's the difference anymore? And who's to say he's wrong?
Regard the late DA's papers and dig in again. My third pair of gloves. I hit the loose piles.
Driving me nuts is the lack of any perceivable pattern or methodology. I like logical processes. I live logical processes. See, Decimal is my handle. Dewey Decimal.
The dead DA dubbed me thus. In reference to my life's work: getting the gargantuan collection of books organized back at my crib, the Main Branch of the New York Public Library.
It's not my real name, this should be no surprise. My Christian moniker, and much of my past—most of this is information I don't have access to. Can't recall. Not like I try that hard. I'm man enough to admit it: from what little I do know, I'm afraid of what I might find, and see no reason to fixate on that which is done.
And yet here I stand, waxing full nostalgic now.
On a lot of levels, Rosenblatt understood my methods. Sure. For as much as he used me, for all the dirty business I did at his behest, the DA gave me context, and a connection to the outside world. Sure, he was a white man. A Jew. Sure, he was a crooked ambulance-chasing attorney turned opportunist politician.
Was a sad part of me that recognized a sad part of him, and vice versa. A kind of color-blind, sicko kinship founded on mutual need.
After my active military service, and my subsequent escape from the torture labs at the National Institutes of Health near Washington, D.C., Rosenblatt was one guy willing to throw me the kind of work that played to some of my less savory strengths.
No questions asked. Not that I had answers, or wanted them.
Naturally, none of this was on my mind as I hefted Rosenblatt's corpse over the lip of one of the many open fire pits that appeared across the city after the Valentine's Occurrence, usually reserved for industrial garbage but equally well suited for the disposal of bodies.
In the end, it came down to him or me, with a woman caught in the middle. Faced with this kind of moral conundrum, the outcome is a no-brainer for your humble narrator.
Lest you've already diagnosed me as a hopeless psychopath, irredeemable, I do have a Code. Which sets me apart from the bulk of the animals in this town and elsewhere.
Shake off this digression. Focus. I sigh, hunker down again over this train wreck of documents.
Another hour of this noise creeps by. My bad knee giving me deep grief, lower back barking, yeah, I'm more or less convinced there's no paper trail with respect to yours truly.
It's entirely possible. Rosenblatt never paid me in cash as such. Not like I ever got any W2s. I was taken care of in other ways, like the pills. It was a unique arrangement, very much in groove with our brave new environment.
Empty the file cabinets, deposit their contents on the floor with everything else. I can never be positive I'm not mentioned anywhere given this impossible fucking mess. This is a serious concern.
Fact in mind, I withdraw a bottle of Grey Goose vodka from the lower left-hand desk drawer, and a couple of loose Cohiba Coronos Especiales. Look around, yeah, here's that cigar clipper. With the man's engraved initials. Jackass.
I've been organizing the papers a bit as I go along. Can't help it, really. Force of habit.
Almost as an afterthought I nudge a box of aforementioned files, the tabloid-y shit on the big operators, toward the exit. Remember tabloids? Remember newspapers? A quaint thought.
Yeah, I know what I said about the blackmail racket not being what it once was. But hey now: you never know when spicy intel like this might serve some future purpose. Make a good bartering tool—but would never want to deal in this firsthand, are you crazy?
Place the set of folders out in the hall, empty and silent this late Sunday afternoon. Not that one would notice, and not that Monday will look much different. Wonder if anyone works up in this building, period. Anymore.
Douse the place in spirits, around in a circle twice.
Take a final look about. Out the window, the great Woolworth Building visible due northeast, about to be outdone (again) once they wrap up that new Freedom Tower piece of shit.
Frisk myself, locate a book of matches, reading: Millennium Hotel. Gives me a little zing. Obviously I haven't been smoking much lately.
There in the doorway, I take a moment to scrub those paws good with the Purell™, and kit-up with a fresh mask and set of gloves.
Lower my face mask, clip the tip off a Cohiba. Jam it between my split lips and spark a match. With the flame applied I rotate the cigar, getting a nice even cherry going.
Excerpted from THE NERVOUS SYSTEM by Nathan Larson Copyright © 2012 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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Meet the Author
Nathan Larson is best known as an award-winning film music composer, having created the scores for over thirty movies, such as Boys Don’t Cry, Dirty Pretty Things, and Margin Call. His highly acclaimed debut novel, The Dewey Decimal System, was published in the spring of 2011. In the ’90s, he was the lead guitarist for the influential prog-punk outfit Shudder to Think. Larson lives in Harlem, New York City, with his wife and son.
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