“This city’s like a virus. You need a few days, a week,

a month to let it run through you. Then you get immune.”

Lay Saints by Adam Connell

 

I’ve been in the book business for more than 20 years and I’ve seen authors come and go. Some authors are like stars, others are like comets – they burn bright momentarily and are then gone. It’s those authors that frustrate me the most as a reader – it grieves me when I discover an extraordinary new author who, after releasing a ground-breaking novel, simply disappears.

 

It has happened countless times throughout history: Margaret Mitchell released Gone with the Wind – which won the Pulitzer Prize – and never published another novel in her lifetime. The Catcher in the Rye was J. D. Salinger’s only novel. Harper Lee published only one novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird. Wuthering Heights was Emily Brontë’s only novel… The list goes on and on – Sylvia Plath, Anna Sewell, John Kennedy Toole, etc.

 

Three undeniably brilliant authors in particular stand out in my mind – Stepan Chapman, Stephan Zielinski, and Adam Connell.

 

 

 

Adam Connell published his debut novel Counterfeit Kings in 2004, a wildly original novel that I described thusly: “a down-and-dirty game of deep space hide-and-seek [that] is the antithesis of space opera. There are no majestic armadas, no epic battles, no clearly defined heroes or villains, just ruthless pawns in a deadly chess game searching for a lost king before the defecation hits the rotating oscillator…”

 

 

To say that I was shocked when I heard that, after eight long years, his second novel, Lay Saints, was going to be released as an ebook would be an understatement. I downloaded the novel to my NOOK – and was instantly blown away.

 

While Lay Saints is decidedly Connellian – unparalleled character development, gritty realism, meaty subtext, etc. – it’s a dramatic departure from Counterfeit Kings. Lay Saints is literary fiction but if I had to categorize it, I’d call it bare-knuckled crime fiction with a touch of SF. It’s a gritty, unapologetically brutal story about a drifter with psychic powers who is trying to find his place in the world. Although the storyline is set largely in Manhattan and revolves around jaded strippers, sadistic thugs and organized crime bosses, it’s ultimately a touchingly intimate story about one man’s journey of self-discovery, albeit it a painful and bloody one.

 

 

It all revolves around a guy named Calder, a telepath who has roamed across the country for years searching for some kind of contentment. When he comes to Manhattan and is forcibly introduced to a crew of others with similar talents, he quickly becomes entangled in a drama between two rival factions, both of which sell their services influencing people “who want their lives interfered with” – jilted lovers in search of revenge, employees seeking promotions, politicians looking for votes, etc.

 

Calder falls in with a crew headed by a guy called Sotto and his first job is a big one: to persuade a city councilman to back a contentious real estate project. Matters are complicated when it is revealed that the rival crew – led by a ruthless telepath bossman named Faraday, who also owns a strip joint – has the contract to dissuade the city councilman. Faraday has more than a few psycho psychics in his employ – Big Sir, the acerbic narrator; Briggs, a deeply disturbed murderer who may or may not be part of the clergy; Lundin, his black, gay, and chain-smoking sidekick; etc.

 

Calder becomes involved with a (don’t call her beautiful) stripper named Tamm at Faraday’s club and the tension between the two crews escalates exponentially. Violence ensues.

 

 

Another noteworthy element is Connell’s extensive use of dialogue to further the narrative and deepen the story’s gritty ambiance. The way in which he seamlessly uses colloquialisms and slang is remarkable.

 

But the thing that really blew me away was the way in which Connell used the setting as symbolism throughout. The numerous allegorical ways in which he described Manhattan was just brilliant. Here are just a few examples:

 

Like Calder, Manhattan is a place undergoing constant change: “This wasn’t a place where he wanted to stay. He’d had enough transience in his life so far. Cobbling meals together, bathing in public restrooms, sleeping on floors, wishing winters were summer and summers winter. He’d come to New York for its permanence but found it a place in flux…”

 

But it is New York City where Calder finds his life’s mission:  “There wasn’t much of a view, so Calder watched the city below. ‘Till I came here,’ he said, ‘I never saw streets move with such purpose.’”

 

Calder envisions the abandoned buildings involved in the project as “beautiful monsters” – a fitting description of not only himself  and some of the strippers but also civilized urbanites in general.

 

"Town cars and limos unloaded fashionable clients. Calder hadn’t thought of Tattletail as high-class. A high-class strip club? Is there such a thing? Like an upscale yard sale? Maybe there is such a thing, Fish. This is a city of contradictions."

 

Another fascinating thread in Connell’s narrative tapestry is his use of  religious terminology and imagery to contradict the decidedly immoral behavior of the characters – like the title: Lay Saints. The chapter heads all have canonical hours, for example, and the imagery throughout is intriguing: the fanatical psycho priest Briggs, smoking a joint rolled in Bible paper, hagiophobia, etc.

 

 

Bottom line: Connell’s Lay Saints is the perfect blend of  literary fiction and genre fiction. It’s original and unpredictable but also character driven and deeply thought provoking. This is a story that works on multiple levels – and should appeal to  multiple groups of readers. Fans of crime fiction, speculative fiction, science fiction, and mainstream fiction alike will find this unique work of fiction virtually unputdownable.

 

Here’s hoping that it doesn’t take Connell eight more years to release his next novel...

 

 

Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. 

 

 Keep up with all of my blogs – as well as all of Barnes & Noble’s exclusive reviews, authors interviews, videos, promotions, and more – by following @BNBuzz on Twitter!

Comments
by Moderator paulgoatallen ‎07-11-2012 04:59 PM - edited ‎07-11-2012 05:00 PM

Here is my complete 2004 B&N review of Counterfeit Kings, for those interested:

 

Adam Connell’s debut novel, a down-and-dirty game of deep space hide-and-seek entitled Counterfeit Kings, is the antithesis of space opera. There are no majestic armadas, no epic battles, no clearly defined heroes or villains, just ruthless pawns in a deadly chess game searching for a lost king before the defecation hits the rotating oscillator…

When an assassination attempt almost kills the leader of a Jovian mining colony – John Kingston, aka the king – he disappears, and in the process, throws thousands of lives into chaos. The queen must find her husband before 20 days elapses or else he’ll be declared dead and his kingdom, along with all the invaluable mines, will be up for grabs. Other groups, with far less philanthropic motives, are interested in finding the king as well: a cult-like legion of the king’s allegedly illegitimate children (known as the Bastards) wants to find the king and force him to share his power and wealth, and a competing mining company led by a sadist named Rouen wants the king and his family dead.

Complicating matters are the king’s doppelgangers, surgically altered men that look exactly like him. The queen, desperate to find her husband alive, enlists two of the royal family’s former bodyguards, a legendary war hero named Horrocks and his pregnant wife Sari. The Bastards forcibly hire a half-crazy salvager named Guilfoyle to find the king and as many Ringers as possible. If he finds the king within 20 days, he gets a pile of money and a new ship; if he fails, he dies. As time ticks away, a mad rush ensues to find Kingston and his counterfeit kings…

Reminiscent of Alfred Bester classics The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination, Connell’s characters are flawed, cynical, witty – and totally obsessed with their own twisted objectives. (It is interesting to note that the suicidal salvager’s name in Counterfeit Kings – Guilfoyle – was eerily similar to the revenge-obsessed hero of The Stars My Destination, Gulliver Foyle.) While it may be pretentious to compare a debut novel to Alfred Bester’s master works, Counterfeit Kings is a surprisingly elaborate and undeniably entertaining story whose gritty characters will stay with the reader for a long, long time. Here’s one new Adam Connell fan who can’t wait to see what he does next… – Paul Goat Allen

by BrandieC on ‎07-12-2012 12:12 PM

Sold!

by on ‎07-13-2012 07:28 AM

What a review Paul! This does have my name on it. Susan even sent me the link to be sure I didn't miss it. Lots of elements in the story that I like. Like Brandie says "Sold!" :smileylol:

by on ‎08-29-2012 06:39 PM

Paul, now how could I pass this one up?  Tell me, how?  You know my preference for literary fiction, and I'm not much of a blood and guts kind of person, but if it's a well written story, no matter the genre, I'll give it a try.  What can I lose, 99 cents?

 

I didn't complete the reading of your review of this new work, Lay Saints, mainly because I can't stand to be told the story in any way, shape, or form; I only want to know the bare facts of how this book made you feel.  I found that out, then stopped in mid-stream.

 

You mentioned authors who took on only one novel in their life;  It is hard when you've read that one book, and claimed it as gold -  and it leaves you with a hole in your gut when nothing more is produced from that writer.  It makes you want to screem.  I know the feeling.  

 

I've looked at the history of most of these writers, and I'm in sympathy with them, with all my heart, and not the readers.  I understand what they felt.  The writers I've talked with, most say they can't stop writing.  It's something that pushes them to keep going.... but for some, that pushing goes a little too far.  Writing becomes their own worst enemy.  Media, or editing, or publication pressures; the world around them closes in.  It's easier to walk away, than to lose your life to fame....Even then, for some, going on can be painful, and taking ones own life is the only way out.

 

It's sad, when you see this happening, and the only thing we can do, as readers, is read their works, and enjoy and appreciate what they could give us in their time of being that shooting star.

by on ‎08-29-2012 10:18 PM

I started this story....I wanted to get a feel for it....The first four pages in.......Wow!  

What a provocative beginning.

Shot gun dialogue!  No kidding around.  

I felt as though this writer was starring me down..

You there...Yes, you! I'm talking to you!

 

What had I done that he thinks is so bad?

I seriously had a hot flash as I was reading those pages....emotionally charged, perhap?

 

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