Simone Pierce is a private eye in New York City, only this is a New York populated only in the tops of buildings which poke above a flooded east coast—the polar ice caps have melted and the city is an island cut off from the now-distant mainland, in effect what we know as Middle America is all that has survived. Simone's got two jobs, one a seemingly routine tail of a wayward husband, the other escorting a Spanish museum curator around a number to the city's tallest buildings, to see what may lie underneath the water. Then the husband she's tailing turns up dead, and her former police colleagues like her for the killing.
Lev Rosen's dystopia isn't unique, but using the setting for a detective novel is a nice touch: there's an innate darkness in the cold water that surrounds the remains of the city, giving the atmosphere, dare I say it? depths of noir. Rosen also uses it in the way the best dystopian fantasies are supposed to: as comment on our present day. Not just the ecological, but more importantly, the social: New York has always been an island home to those who don't fit into the mainstream of society, as well as the HQ for said mainstream: now it's somewhat different, isolated almost completely from a doctrinaire reactionary and puritanical fundamentalist government on the mainland. That Simone's best friend happens to be the mayor's top assistant, as well as part of one of the city's wealthiest families, gives her an interesting entree into both side of the equation.
The setting is remarkably consistent, if the future itself doesn't always catch up: for example devices like mobile phones don't seem to have progressed as far as they seem to have in just the past couple of years, much less a longer time, and you might assume surveillance would be far intensified from the levels it is now. The story itself starts to get very entangled, to the point it needs a somewhat cozy kind of parlour scene to explain things; this is magnified by the character focus being very firmly on Simone: and not always presenting a full-enough picture of those being investigated.
In fact, Depth reminded me of two rather disparate books. The story itself played out like Harper, the movie version of Ross MacDonald's The Moving Target. I kept seeing Paul Newman as Simone, or vice versa. But for the combination of dystopian sf and hard-boiled noir, Rosen may have produced the most satisfying mix since Richard Paul Russo's much uner-valued Carlucci series. Although Rosen delivers a powerhouse set-piece climax, the story does drag in the middle, but there is a lot of depth in Depth, and Simone's return would be welcome.
Depth by Lev AC Rosen
Titan Books £7.99 ISBN 9781783298631
NOTE: This review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)