Near Enemy by Adam Sternbergh

Near EnemyNear Enemy

by Adam Sternbergh

Hardcover, 306 pg.
Crown, 2015
Read: January 14 – 16, 2015I will admit to being a bit nervous about this — Shovel Ready hit me in a sweet spot and I wasn’t sure that Sternbergh was going to be able to follow it up with an unnecessary (I thought) sequel. Also, as long as I’m being honest — without looking at my post or notes, I’m not sure I could’ve described what about Shovel Ready appealed to be so much. It took less than 2 pages of Near Enemy for it to come back to me — yeah, good story, world building and all; but it was the voice and the distinctive way Sternbergh employed the voice that really worked for me. Obviously, in two pages I had no idea if he could pull it off in terms of story/character/etc., but that voice was there, so I was going to enjoy finding out.

Even more than Shovel Ready (I think), this is a Cyberpunk novel as told by Elmore Leonard. It’s been a year since we left Spademan and the rest, and if there’s anyone who expected a happily ever after for any involved, well, I think they didn’t pay close enough attention to the book. Perseophone and her baby are tucked away upstate, and Spademan’s back to work. Once again, though, he doesn’t complete a hit. He finds the target, Lesser, while he’s in the Limnosphere, and is persuaded to wait a moment until he emerges. Lesser gives the wildest story about what happened to him inside — so wild it’s technically impossible. Spademan’s curiosity is piqued, so he lets Lesser live while he looks into the veracity of his claims.

Spademan’s investigation leads him into a maze of politics, police corruption, Islamic activism, assassins that make Spademan look amateurish, and a strange quasi-religious/quasi-Luddite group. The plot’s really not that twisty — it can’t be while being told in Sternbergh’s minimalistic style — but it’s definitely not straight-forward. And though I saw the big surprise twists coming — their reveals were very satisfying. It’s violent — but not as violent as you’d think a novel about an assassin in a very dystopian New York would be.

One example of the violence is a fight scene in the Limnosphere that suggests the climactic battle in The Matrix missed a golden opportunity by not taking fuller advantage of the impossible and/or strange that would be possible in a virtual world.

Of course the ugliness isn’t limited to the damage that people can do to others’ bodies — there’s plenty of other trauma to be found. One example is Spademan’s description of how the City reacted to the last major terrorist attack:

Cops came after midnight.
Special ops. Special cops. The lethal kind, who never bothered to memorize Miranda rights.
Clad in black. Move in tandem.
Red laser dots dancing over locked doorways.
Hand signals. Gloved hands. Give the go-ahead.
Boots unleashed on doors. Doors caved in with a clatter. Suspects scrambling as they’re yanked from their beds, still tangled up in the sheets. Some half-dressed, some half-cursing, dragged into hallways under sweeping flashlight beams, wrists zipped up in plastic cuffs, then shoved down the staircase. Some more than shoved.
A few unfortunate escape attempts shot down as they fought back. Or at least that’s how it got written up in the reports.

At the same time, in the midst of the blackness, there’s moments of happiness, contentment, camaraderie.

There’s a real heart to this character, real sadness — maybe even hope. When you thinking you’ve got Spademan figured out — he does something you don’t see coming. There’s this flashback to a High School (maybe Junior High) English teacher working with Spademan that’ll tug on your heartstrings.

Near Enemy successfully builds on Shovel Ready expanding the world, characters and story strongly, as well as setting things up for (I’m guessing) a final climactic novel that is going to knock my socks off.

This is the kind of book that makes you want to call in sick, blow off appointments and resent the fact that you have loved ones that want to spend time with you (and that, ordinarily, you want to spend time with, too). It’s as immersive as the Limnosphere, with none of the side effects, and just as addictive.

Note:I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. Which was generous and cool of them, but didn’t impact what I said about the book.


4 1/2 Stars

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