Shovel Ready: Gonna keep an eye on this Sternbergh guy

Shovel Ready by Adam SternberghShovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

I was alone in the spare bedroom. Upstairs, where the light is good. Though not too good. No TV, no music, no family. It had me right where it wanted me. So yeah, I bit. Most guys woulda. Most girls too, no matter what you think.

Shovel Ready the flashy label said, and if you looked closer you could see a name: Adam Sternbergh. ‘Cept, this Sternbergh guy isn’t the story. First name you get never is. Didn’t take me many jobs to learn that.

No, this tale belonged to a guy named Spademan. Tough guy, if not as tough as he makes out. Contract killer — men, women — he don’t care. Just no kids he says. Draws the line at 17 and younger. Guy’s got a conscience like an R-rated horror movie.

He lives in Jersey, works in NYC. Yeah, even after the dirty bomb and then all the car bombs. Half the city left; he’s one a the ones who stayed. Don’t ask me why. Not sure he could say himself.

So yeah, one rule. No kids. Which of course means he gets a kid. I mean, we all coulda seen that comin’. It’s a twofer, actually, seeing as how the girl’s pregnant. By her daddy, she says. Same preacher-man who contracted Spademan to do her in the first place. Yeah, I’m thinking that too.

And so’s Spademan. He don’t care daddy’s some super-rich guy with a virtual reality heaven he’s selling to the masses. He’s killed rich guys before. Most of the time in their special beds, hooked up to their better-than-the-real-world “limnosphere,” same place daddy’s building his heaven and paying to send all the poor folks there for free. ‘Cept nothing’s for free. Not in this world. Not in the next.

So Spademan ain’t buying what Grace’s daddy is selling. Especially when the sales pitch comes out of a barrel. Turns out Spademan ain’t the only killer daddy’s got under contract. Rich folks. One’s never enough of anything.

So that’s how the story started. Sure, you’ve heard it before. Killer with a heart of gold. Preacher with a mind of gold. And Grace? Yeah, let’s just say the name fits her like used overalls on a pig — a little baggy, a little worse for wear, but lots of room to grow into. If you don’t mind the stains.

Funny thing though. Yeah, I’ve heard this one before. But that didn’t stop me from listening. Spademan? Man’s got a voice like a ticker tape during a bank run. The narration is almost as terse as my dead Aunt Mayenne, the dialogue’s tighter than my Uncle Joe’s arteries, and the tension is sharper than when Mayenne found out Joe was stepping out with her sister.

Meanwhile, New York’s dressed up like a dame who ain’t realized her best years are 20 years behind her and the clothes she’s wearing are even older. But the old gal’s still got class. I ain’t the only one lookin’, I can tell you that.

So, yeah. I bit. Bit pretty hard too. Went through it like the first frozen pizza at 3:00 a.m. on a Saturday. Before I knew it, it was gone, and I’m looking for more.

I’m gonna keep an eye on this Sternbergh guy. You should too. Anyone asks, tell ‘em I told ya so.

Publication Date: January 14, 2014. The futuristic hardboiled noir that Lauren Beukes calls “sharp as a paper-cut” about a garbage man turned kill-for-hire. Spademan used to be a garbage man. That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before his wife was killed, and before the city became a blown-out shell of its former self. Now he’s a hitman. In a near-future New York City split between those who are wealthy enough to “tap in” to a sophisticated virtual reality, and those who are left to fend for themselves in the ravaged streets, Spademan chose the streets. His new job is not that different from his old one: waste disposal is waste disposal. He doesn’t ask questions, he works quickly, and he’s handy with a box cutter. But when his latest client hires him to kill the daughter of a powerful evangelist, his unadorned life is upended: his mark has a shocking secret and his client has a sordid agenda far beyond a simple kill. Spademan must navigate between these two worlds—the wasteland reality and the slick fantasy—to finish his job, clear his conscience, and make sure he’s not the one who winds up in the ground. Adam Sternbergh has written a dynamite debut: gritty, violent, funny, riveting, tender, and brilliant.

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BILL CAPOSSERE lives in Rochester NY, where he is lately spending much of his time trying to finish a book-length collection of essays and a full-length play. His prior work has appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other journals and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of several Best American Essay anthologies. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, co-writing the Malazan Empire re-read at Tor.com, or working as an English adjunct, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course, the ultimate frisbee field, or trying to keep up with his wife's flute and his son's trumpet on the clarinet he just picked up this month.

View all posts by Bill Capossere

2 comments

  1. It looked like my earlier comment didn’t go through, so here it is again — not only an excellent review but great writing!

  2. Yes, very entertaining, Bill!

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