Floodgate: A Novel by Johnny Shaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I received an advance copy of this from NetGalley.
Auction City is the kind of town that would keep Gotham City from being ranked #1 on one of those Worst Places To Live In America lists. It’s a decaying cesspool of crime and corruption where an honest cop like Andy Destra gets framed, disgraced, and tossed off the police force after he digs a little too deeply into a case.
Unemployment doesn’t keep Andy from launching a personal investigation and crusade against the deputy chief who got him fired, but Andy’s obsession with looking into Auction City’s shady history has him teetering on the brink of being written off as a conspiracy theory whackadoo. When Andy sees a mysterious lady visiting the woman who raised him it sparks his curiosity and leads him to previously unsuspected layers of Auction City secrets that could get him killed.
I’ve been a big cheerleader for Johnny Shaw since I stumbled across his old Blood & Tacos* e-zines and had an ARC of his Dove Season dropped in my lap a few years back, and it’s been a genuine pleasure to keep up with his career since then. He’s got a knack of creating characters who are likable losers and putting them in hilariously violent situations with plenty of laugh out loud moments. Floodgate continues that trend with Andy being a goof who finds himself in over his head and confronted with a stream of increasingly outlandish characters and situations.
That works pretty well, but I had a few problems with this one. The story seems a bit slow coming out of the gate, and it takes a while to get up and running. Andy is also a problematic protagonist who is supposed to be an ex-cop who knows the score in Auction City, and yet he seems almost painfully naïve, and short-sighted at times. This whole story hinges on the idea that out of simple curiosity Andy starts chasing a trail despite being warned off in very scary ways and having his life threatened, and that just doesn’t seem like enough motivation for this.
In addition to that there’s also the contradiction that Andy is supposed to be the kind of guy who can patiently prowl old records and painstakingly build files on every nook and cranny of Auction City, yet he’s so impatient that he can’t sit on a stake-out for 20 minutes without getting bored and doing something he knows his stupid. Frankly, he comes across as kind of a dumb ass just running around with his hair on fire who then criticizes other for their lack of planning and research later in the book. (view spoiler)[Which is rich coming from the guy who started the whole mess by accidently killing a guy he confronted with a gun without thinking of what he’d do next. (hide spoiler)]
That kind of characterization has worked in other Shaw books when his leads are supposed to be rednecks and morons, but this kind of story seems to demand a smart, cynical, and capable hero. It seems improbable that Andy could have lasted for ten minutes in Auction City, let alone have once been a cop there. I know this is primarily a comedy, but it just didn’t seem like the kind of story where the main character could be that idiotic and impulsive.
Still, I loved the whole idea of this hellish city that makes Detroit seem like garden spot and the underlying history to the whole situation. There’s a cool concept at the heart of this that could be a fun series, and Shaw puts some very funny bits into the chaos that ensues. However, I had a hard time getting past the basic stupidity of Andy that drives the entire plot.
* - Full disclosure. I once contributed an unpaid review to Blood & Tacos.
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