The Short Version: Sometime after the Valentine’s Occurence(s), New York City is a comparative wasteland – less than a tenth of the population remaining, most of the bridges destroyed, an apocalyptic air about the town. A war vet with a few mental issues (PTSD, OCD, memory loss) who goes by the name of Dewey Decimal has taken up residence in the Schwartzman Building and does some odd jobs as detective/tough for the City in the meantime. But when the DA sends him to take out a gangster, he gets caught up in some old school noir shenanigans – and has to decide exactly who he trusts.
The Review: A Goodreads review mentions that it seems so logical to hole up in the NYPL after the apocalypse hits and I think that’s the concept that drew me to this book in the first place. I love a good dystopic/post-apocalyptic novel, especially one set in New York – which is a somewhat morbid thing to enjoy but we can address the underlying issues there some other time – and this one fits in right alongside novels like Colson Whitehead’s Zone One or cinema classics like Escape from New York. We get some backstory: there were several well-timed and terrible explosive events that happened on Valentine’s Day a few years in the recent past as well as a superflu and the general collapse of the Western economies. It all seems to take place just a few years in the future from now – I carbon date that by means of several references to products circa 2011 (MacBooks, Priuses, etc are all dated, specifically, circa 2011)… but there’s also reference to two black Presidents, so unless he’s counting Bill Clinton…
Anyway, it’s those sort of questions about the world itself that lie underneath the action of the novel, questions that stimulate the imagination but aren’t entirely necessary for the plot itself to propel you forward. Although I really do want to know what’s going on in the Park – sounds crazy. But so anyway, our hero(?) is a war vet who has probably been subjected to several kinds of government shenanigans before our story begins. He’s a nice enough guy – smart, likes books, spends his free time attempting (heroically, if futiley) to reorganize the library – but he’s got a nasty streak: he handily dispatches several people throughout the course of the novel, including a handful in moderate cold blood. He wears nice suits, has a System that protects him, and several other little quirks that make him a modestly memorable figure.
The plot itself is the only thing that I wouldn’t exactly call memorable about the novel and I guess that’s really only because it’s nothing all that new. In fact, for those who’ve read any noir ever (I’m talking Raymond Chandler to Lemony Snicket – if you’ve read one, you’re going to be aware of the tropes), it’s almost a little predictable. This isn’t a bad thing but I’m just saying, we’re not really doing anything new here. Decimal is brought in with a limited amount of info, discovers that things aren’t exactly as they seem, gets played from several directions, and ends up realizing he has to look out for himself first. So it has been with so many hard-boiled heroes since the dawn of time (or at least the dawn of the 1920s). Still, the plot points are dispatched well and because we have a hero and a world that are intensely interesting, the novel itself becomes worthwhile – who said everything has to reinvent the wheel?
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. It’s a pretty fast-paced novel, if a bit confusing now and again. Decimal’s System, so logical and compulsive, can be a little overwhelming at times and it’s hard to keep players straight in the reader’s head – although I think that statement proves true for Decimal as well, so it’s all in good fun. I’m not rushing out to buy the next book in the series, but I’ll certainly pick it up at some point – I’m curious to see where our anonymous librarian hero goes next (and to know more about just what happened on 2/14).