“Why is it always a blonde?”
About once a year there comes along a book that irks me for a strong reason. A very strong reason. It might be the author’s vast credentials that appear to have been squandered, the inability to push the genre when it wishes to do so badly, or just the piss poor writing quality. Lev Rosen’s Depth manages to hit all three and keep trucking.
The ice caps have melted, bringing rising sea levels to humanity’s door front. New York City as we know it is gone, sunken all the way up the twenty-first floor. Or is it?
Simone Pearce is the city’s best private investigator, or so we’re told, buddied up with the Chief of Police, Caroline Khan. Simone’s latest case is an easy surveillance sting; keep an eye on a supposed cheating husband and all should go smoothly. But when he winds up dead in the recycling bin, well, things go exactly the way they shouldn’t.
It’s a nice set up, suitably post-apocalyptic and oozing with enough twists to muddle your sight like the sea fog. Problem is, it is none of this.
Yes, the world is interesting to a degree, just so long as you don’t think too hard on how we got there. Of course, the “how” really isn’t as important per se in a piece of detective fiction. The whodunit should take center stage. Rosen tries his hand at an elaborate plot, teeming with political corruption and back door scheming, but like most traps of modern day mystery fiction, he creates a strong second sub-plot that invariably ties directly into the major one.
It’s the oldest trick in the book and there’s no use sugar coating the mechanic. If used well, it can be incorporated quick enough that you don’t see it coming, but that requires details upon details to confuse the reader, set them off-kilter, unsure which line is the hook and sinker.
This should’ve been my first warning.
The only excess of information Rosen presents us is in the many, many info-dumps.
Whenever a new character shows up, the author decides it’s best to tell us their entire backstory up until now. Not only is this lazy writing at its finest, it’s also jarring and completely unwarranted. If you wanted to relay this information in a better way, show the ticks and ghosts haunting them through their actions. Making a character scratch their metal head plate and joking about protecting terrorists does more to establish characterization than needlessly inserting paragraph upon paragraph of what that metal head plate entails, how he got it, or what its functions are.
But when it comes to our two main characters, Simone and Caroline, very little is said about them. This could be a direct interpretation of writers such as Chandler or Hammett and their creations, but to wave off anything different from characters seventy years ago other than their gender is ludicrous. There is little motivation for either character, other than a flippant backstory near the end in some vain attempt to wrap up a problem. The tropes are all there: The addiction to narcotics, cigarettes in particular; the brash, standoffish loner talk; the trust issues; the religious distaste.
As I said, the only difference between a Noir caricature that’s been written over seventy years and Simone Pearce is that she’s a woman. There is no analysis. There is nothing new or exciting, and I can’t applaud the simple switch in how they use the restroom, especially when I’m more curious as to how those traits were formed to get us here.
Hell, even the female objectification is subverted to a male femme fatale. I will, however, applaud Rosen on his writings with deCostas. The character is suitable and naïve enough for the part he needs to play, and the gender roles itself is a nice critique that I’m afraid should’ve been expanded upon more than just by focus on his physique or pronoun.
“Simone, like most New Yorkers, thought all religions were crap, and Boro-Baptism was just the latest name for a generations-old addiction to fear and an overwhelming hope that someone could save you.”
Unfortunately, the one critique I cannot applaud is Rosen’s casual attack on religion. Don’t get me wrong; I love a strong analysis or skepticism on organized religion and the adverse effects of it. Even spirituality and the inclusion of faithlessness is enough to rattle my curiosity. It’s a favorite theme of mine, funnily enough being religious.
So it will come to no surprise that I was disgusted at Rosen’s background remarks on, what one might call, a box toward neo-conservatism. See, I can only assume that the rising tide created a mass hysteria that made people flock toward answers. Sweet-talking pastors and the hope that springs from faith must’ve given them those answers. Problem is, Rosen doesn’t tell us any of this. We must assume.
We must infer that a century or more into the future will still have rampant homophobia, with little remarks on a much more probable xenophobia or nativism. Modesty is revered, and the antagonist has a Southern accent because “that fits the Bible Belt stereotype.”
Don’t even get me started on how an entire nation could accept a Westboro Baptist-themed identity. That’s revolting, being a Baptist myself.
It’s quite frankly appalling that Rosen thinks gay rights will completely disappear because of a fervent, humanistic need for light in a swirling chaos of natural disaster. The cynical man might call it an attack on the other side’s politics. I like to call it a lazy liberal’s wet dream (pun intended).
I almost put the book down because of this, but the short length and hope that he might expound upon such ideas kept me going.
No such luck.
The writing does not improve as the story continues. It is clunky, stilted, and bad hardboiled writing at its finest. The pacing is as slow as a police procedural, supposedly to allow the reader to think alongside Simone.
Hah. I had the majority of the case solved by the second chapter.
Transitions are also sharp and unexpected, as if Rosen sat down after finishing a week ago on one scene and wishing to segue straight into the newest plot point.
For all the author’s faults, I must also bring into question the publisher’s credentials.
Yes, I review a book free of charge. Yes, I should be grateful. But some mistakes are intolerable. Whoever formatted this particular ARC needs to go back to whatever workshop they took and reassess their work.
“’Pleased to meet you, Pastor Sorenson,’ Simone said,
her hand in what she hoped was a confident way. He
His hands were rough and dry.
‘Thank you for letting us do this,’ deCostas said, also
I’m not sure what formatting error this is, but if somebody could tell me how to fix it, I’d love them for all eternity. I have an assumption it’s a PDF processing error, but I can’t be sure. A simple fix would be to read over the document before you send it out for review and make it a MOBI doc if you want it to be sent to Kindles. Just a suggestion.
It’s not that hard people, and what irks me the most is this isn’t the first case; it’s just the first I’ve had to deal with where half the book is like this. I guess you could make the same allusion to the author’s work as well.
If you haven’t come to your senses by now, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anybody with any knowledge of Noir fiction or want of post-apocalyptic dystopia. Perhaps simple detective fiction, but nothing more. If you’re going to do something, you go the distance. You go as far as it takes. I expected more than fingernail depth from a writer lauded like Lev Rosen.
So if you want to call Depth a homage to Noir, be my guest. I’ll laugh and call it an insult.
“She had the shot. It was lined up. She just needed to wait for the fog to clear. And it was going to clear in a moment. She could read the swirls of it, how it breathed and parted. New York City was lazy, like cigarette smoke.”
*I was given this ARC for my honest review.*