Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Next by Rafe Haze

Title: The Next
Authors: Rafe Haze
Purchase at Wilde City Press
Purchase at All Romance eBooks
Cover Artist:  not stated
Genre:  thriller 
Length:  83k
Formats:  epub, mobi, pdf,  print

He never thought he’d become one of the agoraphobic sludges of New York City—trapped with one view of a courtyard and a head full of wrenching memories. Dumped, disconnected, and depressed, he surrenders to spying on the neighbors as his only entertainment.
Until one day, without warning, the lascivious and suspicious behavior of the closeted lawyer in the huge apartment across the courtyard leads him to a spine-tingling conclusion… his neighbor is a murderer.

Perhaps collaborating with the beautiful and fierce Detective Marzoli to catch the killer can finally breathe life back into a man suffocated by the stranglehold of a tragic past. Unless the killer across the way decides to make him… The Next.

~*~*~*~*

The cover is a pretty good metaphor for this book—whatever that man makes you think, turn it 90 degrees.

Our nameless protagonist lives in a downward spiral of despair—he’s given up on the world. His songwriting mocks him, his girlfriend gives up on him, his agent’s all but forgotten him, and his bank account has that hollow sound of terminal emptiness.  The opening is so bleak that I seriously questioned being able to stay with the protag for the rest. DNF at the 10% mark was a real possibility, staved off by the prospect of elderly Field and Streams at the dentist's office. We’re not even given a name as a point of connection.

 The action heats up when Detective Marzoli appears at the door with questions about a neighbor and a bit of man-flirting in spite of the condition to which Protag has sunk, mostly for informational purposes.

We’re treated to a non-standard investigation of the upstairs neighbor’s disappearance—he’s considered inconsequential and only Marzoli (no first name ever given) cares enough to pursue. We’re also treated to a slow unraveling of Protag’s defenses and his past, which is messy. Marzoli has his own issues, which don’t become clear until late in the story, and because of the order in which things happen, don’t even begin to explain his attraction to Protag as more than observer of strategic windows. (Seriously, after a year in a 650 square foot apartment clogged with dirty clothes and garbage, a forty year old man who hasn’t seen the sun or exercised and lives on takeout is going to resemble a grub found under a rock. Given his stated torpor in his daily life, let’s not speculate on his hygiene.)

The style is more literary than we’re used to in romance: Protag spends a lot of time fingering the textures of his soul and of New York City. We get flashbacks to his past, a moment here, a trauma there. It’s a wonder he’s functioned this long, and up to the year of hibernation, this well, without intensive therapy. Poor guy, and no wonder his brother Paul fell apart. Participating in the investigation best he can with his limited mobility gives him something important to think about and heals something within, aided by Marzoli’s interest.

Protag begins with a semi-committed relationship with Joanna, who gets an undeserved helping of scorn, even though she’s stuck with him past the bounds of sanity, and hasn’t entirely given up on him, however badly it’s expressed. In true “out for you” fashion, he doesn’t much question his attraction to Marzoli, only contrasting it with other relationships with men in his life, including adults who should have been soundly kicked in the ass. (I have a small weird admiration, overridden by a nuclear level of hate, for the grandfather.) Marzoli is a good guy, if somewhat unexplored, but that’s inherent in the structure of the story—we have only one POV and bigger concerns: the tension lasts most of the book. We get enough to be hopeful for them.

The investigation is marred by a couple of assumptions based on slivers of data, but the solution is actually terrific. The action sequences at the end are pretty cool, and we are left understanding all the whys.

A stronger, or perhaps more competent, editorial hand would have been nice, eliminating some continuity errors and spelling and punctuation that veers from British/Australian conventions to American, which is peculiar in a book set in New York with a US born protagonist. Everyone who touched this book needs to review apostrophes. Some words either do not mean what they're meant to mean, or might be local slang that doesn't export. Frex, from the blurb--sludges? Really? (Had I been looking at blurb only, I would have passed for that bit of stupid, but instead I found the story via a discussion of food vs gay men, which intrigued me into buying.)

I did have to keep reading in spite of the many small bounces out of the story, and I would read more from this author, but there were an awful lot of bounces. If you're looking for thrills, it's derivative but done well, if you're looking for romance, it has insta-issues, but as a whole, worth the read. 3.75 marbles

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