Like many classic hard boiled detectives before him Dewey Decimal, the former soldier turned private shamus of Nathan Larson's debut novel The Dewey Decimal System, is driven by loss; of a wife and child, of a pre-February-fourteenth New York (the date of the multitude of terror attacks and the ensuing plague that has cut the city's population by ninety percent), and of his own innocence. The problem with all the memories he carries around is he's not sure that they even belong to him.
Seems that some time during his stint in the military he underwent, (presumably voluntarily) some radical modifications and he suspects that his mind was severely tinkered with - memories edited, lifted and even implanted - leaving his true identity a ghost incapable of haunting him. He's a man who doesn't exist. Not on paper, not in his own mind. He doesn't even remember his name. People call him Dewey Decimal because of his hobby - re-organizing the New York City Public Library. Whether they existed or not before the alterations, Dewey has some serious obsessive-compulsive issues now and finds that his chosen vocation of putting the library back together soothes his mind and spirit like nothing else. So, anytime he's not doing work for a client (mostly the shady DA lately) he's methodically restoring the now in shambles public institution.
But, this book is not about restoring harmony to the piles of books he lives among, instead it centers around the tasks Dewey excels at whether he wants to or not: namely squirreling the truth out of mysterious circumstances, finding hidey-prone things and killing people. Lots of people. It's funny. It's not so funny. It's tragi-hysterical.
The particulars of the case, in this the first of what will surely become a series, involve war crimes, human trafficking and the recovery of an anatomical religious relic. To make things right Mr. Decimal turns left, pops a pill for his strange heart condition, uses a truckload of Purell, turns left again, shoots somebody, shakes it off and makes one more left turn before capping a few more people inconvenient to his purposes.
Case solved. Deeper mystery opened.
All of Dewey's ticks are going to draw comparisons to Motherless Brooklyn, but it's the strange quasi-post-apocalyptic landscape of Jonathan Lethem's Amnesia Moon that I'm going to peg as the closer relation and certainly the book's jacket is correct in throwing names like Dashiell Hammett, Charlie Huston and Duane Swierczynski at Larson, (Red Harvest , The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death and Expiration Date feel like cousins for sure) but Philip K. Dick is perhaps the most direct literary parallel to this one. (Do you like those near-future, societal collapse, dystopian, drug-addled, corkscrewing of reality thrillers the way I do? Have you read Richard Thomas's Transubstantiate - well, you should.)
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