Regular readers will know Richard Kadrey (previously) from his bestselling Sandman Slim series, but as much as I love those books, I think I love his latest, "The Grand Dark" -- a noir/dieselpunk novel set in a fictionalized weimar city in a brief, hectic interwar period -- even more.
As I write in my LA Times review of The Grand Dark: "If you read “Sandman Slim,” you know that Kadrey can do hard-boiled like nobody’s business, like a Tom Waits ballad in novel form. And you know that he can do plot like hell, a fast-burning, violent and relentless storytelling mode that propels his gentleman loser antiheroes along with great energy, in the face of adversity, beatings and impossible odds."
Kadrey's latest tugs on so many timely threads about inequality and automation, forever wars and authoritarianism, environmental degradation and urbanism, all while thundering along like the first-rate adventure novel it is, steeped in so much wickedness that it's like someone put a cigar and a pint of prison wine in a nutribullet and inked a typewriter ribbon with the resulting slurry.
Largo is a bike courier in the city of Lower Proszawa — once the down-at-heels ghetto to High Proszawa’s stately mansions but now all that remains of Proszawa, practically speaking, ever since the great war reduced High Proszawa to a deadly snarl of plague pits, bomb craters, unexploded ordnance and ruins. The great war is over now, and Lower Proszawa has been reborn, with new fancy neighborhoods springing up alongside the ruins of buildings that were shelled or merely left to rot during the long fight.
With the war over, Largo and his fellow Lower Proszawans have found a new, frenetic energy. Every day is a haze of morphia drops dripped under the tongue; every night is a cocaine-fueled debauch as Largo reels from the Grand Dark theater (where his beautiful girlfriend, Remy, is an actor, directing a mechanical puppet onstage to dramatize sensationalized versions of the most horrible murders published in yellow sheets like “Ihre Skandal”) to parties where radical artists and war profiteers rub shoulders and fall into piles of writhing bodies.
Richard Kadrey's 'The Grand Dark' feels like a Tom Waits ballad in a diesel punk novel [Cory Doctorow/LA Times]