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At once a noir thriller and a literary excursion into urban America between the wars, The Disappearing Body is a tale of drug dealing and union-busting, murder and mayhem on both sides of the law that combines the atmospheric richness of Dashiell Hammett and the irresistible, subversive humor of Thomas Pynchon.When Victor Ribe, an ex-junkie and World War I veteran, is mysteriously released from prison after serving fifteen years for a murder he didn’t commit, the city he returns to is heating up for another kind of war. Prohibition has been repealed and the underworld is developing a new source of profits–illegal heroin trafficking. Meanwhile, the city’s legitimate industries are launching an offensive against unionization and the specter of Communism–and they’re not above fighting dirty. When Victor’s old Army buddy Freddy Stillman, a munitions salesman, reports a murder but can’t explain why the body has disappeared, he unwittingly pulls himself and Victor into this bewildering swirl of corruption. It is a conspiracy that encompasses everyone–from a rising politician who may have just run into the end of his career to a young journalist driven as much by the nonstop energy of the Metro desk as she is by the mystery of her father’s suicide–in the book’s vast, noir cityscape.David Grand, whose first novel, Louse, transformed the last days of Howard Hughes into compelling fiction, works the same dark magic here, weaving suspenseful mystery into his stunning, perversely hilarious portrait of the corruption, ambition, passion, and innocence of post-Prohibition America.read more
This new book by the author of the Howard Hughes novel Louse is a kind of postmodern thriller in which genre elements a gritty, unnamed American city in the 1930s; sleaze and corruption galore; tough dialogue and dark secrets from the past are laid out with such deadpan panache that they acquire a satirical edge. This is offset, however, by an almost Dostoyevskian sense of human desperation, so that the total effect is constantly unsettling. The plot is monumentally complex, beginning with the release from jail of Victor Ribe, a veteran of the First World War, who later becomes a junkie and is framed for murder. Meanwhile, an old army buddy, Freddie Stillman, now working as a shipping clerk at a munitions manufacturer, reports seeing a murder, but the body can't be found. Further complications involve skeletons in the closet of a city prosecutor running for high office, State Department efforts to thwart the shipment of arms to the Soviets, heroin trafficking, blackmail, gangster rubouts, and efforts to resist factory unionization that seem Communist-inspired. Add several hopeless love affairs, a plucky girl reporter, a cynical newspaper editor and a dying private detective, and you have a Depression-era thriller that touches every base. Grand's skill at keeping all these balls in the air and the palpable sense of menace he creates don't quite compensate, however, for the sense that the whole book is an elaborate put-on. (Mar. 5) Forecast: Admirers of Grand's earlier book may respond to his peculiar style, but lovers of hard-boiled gangster noir will find this too opaque and cluttered. A specialized read only. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved