Lev AC Rosen
Regan Arts / Titan Books
Pub Date: Apr 28 2015
The setting for Lev AC Rosen’s novel Depth is a post-apocalyptic flooded New York City, where rising oceans have made what once were the twenty first floors of buildings ground, or more precisely, sea level. The city is like Venice 21 floor up in the sky. It has effectively been cut off from the US mainland, and as a result operates by its own set of laws.
Our main protagonist is Simone Pierce, one of the city’s private investigators (PI). Daughter of an ex-cop, she’s a loner with only a few people she can call friends: Caroline Khan, deputy major, and daughter of one of the wealthiest and most influential families in the city; on/off lover and cop, Paul Weiss, and a ‘human’ computer called Danny.
Simone is working two jobs: a tail job to see if a husband is cheating on his wife, and a hand-holding job, escorting a visiting European archaeologist – Alejandro DeCostas – around the city as he looks for evidence of buildings which are inhabitable below the twenty-first floor, and a long rumoured tunnel connecting the city to the mainland.
When the Husband she is following is murdered, Simone starts to suspect that there may be more to the case than first met the eye: Who is is the mysterious blonde the husband was meeting with? Why are so many of the city’s art collectors so interesting in a painting by a minor artist, and is the painting really worth killing for? As her two jobs seem to merge into one the answers only seem to raise more questions.
I’ve long been a fan of books that blend science fiction and classic gumshoe detective fiction, whether it be The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick (and, of course, the even better film extracted from it, Blade Runner) The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester or many other fine examples. It comes from growing up seeing screen adaptations of the novels of Hammett and Chandler ( can we just agree now that The Big Sleep (1946 version obviously) is one of the finest films ever made) and Mickey Spillane, due to TV show Mike Hammer with the wonderful Stacey Keach. These drove me back to the original novels and there was always just something to them that connected with me – the smart arse outsider, ready with the quick one-liners, flawed but heroic.
Depth plays to the traditional gumshoe conventions: Loner with trust issues, Ex cop parent, antagonism from police to out hero, a more ruthless PI as competition, and the uber useful best friend/contact. But that’s fine. Rosen clearly loves Hammett and Chandler too, and is not afraid to show it, be it in hiding an item being looked for in something else or in the book’s best line: “Why is it always a blonde?”
The thing is, first and foremost Depth is an enjoyable read. Simone Pierce is a strong and likable central character, and Rosen has populated the book with a number of potentially intriguing characters who you feel could be further developed, expanded and exploited (Almost by their very nature PI/detective stories are set up to be series). He should also be applauded for making most of the key protagonists in the book female. This still doesn’t happen often enough in any kind of fiction in my opinion, but it was nice to see here.
Plot wise, the book often seems a little too quick to answer some of its mysteries and I would have perhaps liked the book to make even more of its watery backdrop than it actually does, but the action moves the plot along nicely, and there is enough to hold your attention through to the end. And, unlike Chandler in The Big Sleep we at least discover exactly who killed whom.
The book ends with at least one unsolved mystery that could form the basis of a follow up book, and given the unique environment Rosen has created for his story to play out in, it would be a shame not to get a further opportunity to explore its murky waters.