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Alive in Necropolis Paperback – June 2, 2009
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Amazon Best of the Month, July 2008: Mix one part gritty police procedural with one part ghost story, add a splash of teen angst and a hefty dose of black humor, and you have Doug Dorst's brilliant debut novel--a delicious blend of Paul Auster, Kevin Brockmeier, and Joss Whedon. In Colma, California, where the dead outnumber the living, a rookie cop who saves the life of a troubled teenager is either the savior of the city, or a man on the brink of losing his mind. Alive in Necropolis is brimming with fascinating characters (both the living and the dead), none more so than the young cop trying to get a handle on his place in the world. Dorst defies conventional storytelling--at once grim and playful (his two epigraphs quote Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim and Hanson's "MmmBop"), he weaves the supernatural seamlessly into this "straight" story and the result is effortlessly imaginative, funny, and poignant. Fans of Auster, Jonathan Carroll, and Haruki Murakami will want to make room on their nightstand for their next new favorite. --Daphne Durham
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A daring and big-hearted first novel...Like Dashiell Hammett, Dorst conveys a hard-bitten love of the physical San Francisco."
-New York Times Book Review
"In the same way Buffy the Vampire Slayer mixed high school and bloodsuckers, Doug Dorst combines cops and ghosts in his Alive in Necropolis. The result is a haunted variation on Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series...Imaginative and accomplished... Pitch-perfect."
"Rich, unsettling...truly haunting."
-San Francisco Chronicle "An intriguing mix of coming-of-age story, police procedural, and magical realism."
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Mercer is a great character, constantly trying to improve himself and facing serious choices about his development as a man and a police officer. Dorst did an okay job telling me why Mercer liked Fiona, but I never really got the romantic connection. I was really pulling for him to get with Kelly and have a little fun, for the first time in his life.
Encapsulating the action into the police reports is an interesting implementation of fiction. Dorst certainly gets points for trying something new. I can't figure out what I really like about this book, but I can tell you what I don't.
1. The present tense is very distracting at times. I don't understand why authors choose to write in this fashion when so little is gained. I guess it's a good decision when you're writing lyrical narrative, with lots of action and a fast pace. But if you're describing architecture, the present tense is ridiculous: "Is someone creating the corinthian columns right now? I can't tell!"
2. Officer Mercer is rather injury-prone. I could see one incident, specifically the car crash, happening and advancing the plot. But he's in the hospital on three separate occasions, and after the third occurrence you really don't care that he's in pain.
3. So many characters! Most are interesting, with Toronto and Jude probably being the most in-depth, but their roles come in waves, and are never complete. Some characters, particularly Lorna, get off scott-free from their poor choices, while others, particularly Jude, are placed in impossible situations and face huge consequences. Reyna doesn't even make an appearance in the epilogue: what the Hell happened to her?
4. We are never really emotionally invested in the plight of the ghosts. Dorst never connects what Featherstone was doing there in the first place (I assumed he actually was crazy) and, more importantly, never gives us a real reason for Mercer to care what happened to the beleaguered residents of the cemetary.
5. Little Coit learns martial arts from an old guy in the Japanese cemetary? Seriously?
6. Using root on the living in the climax seems curious. Doc Barker already has a great method of killing, see Sergeant Featherstone. Further, we are never told about the method used by the latter to avoid coming to the cemetary at all. It is mentioned in passing in one of the police reports (cremation, I think?) but it would have been interesting to examine how he learned of the circumstances and any other "rules" that apply to the lives of the dead.
Overall, I guess I can't recommend this book, per se, but if you're thinking about reading it, I think you should, simply to see what you'll think.
I was so excited for this book when I first read the sample on my kindle, but it wound up being a several hundred page let down. There were times in the beginning I was actually confused as to what the hell was even going on and what time frame we were in. This could be blamed on his writing in the present tense, it made it very difficult to realize until paragraphs into a section exactly which character he was talking about.
My main issue with this is that it is like one of those movies that has been marketed in completely the wrong way, so that once someone goes and sees it they have no choice but leaving at the end rather dismayed and annoyed. It's like a bait and switch. Imagine promoting Aliens as a love story between a girl and a colonial marine.
As someone else pointed out, the police reports were an interesting and original way to introduce some things that went on since it would have been difficult to show things from Featherstone's point of view otherwise. But I am a big fan of "show me don't tell me" storytelling. I think he could have chosen to use a different style where he could switch voices as he swapped from Mercer to Featherstone so we could actually experience what Featherstone did. Plus on my kindle I found some of the reports very difficult to read.
One of the biggest missed opportunities I'd have to say is with almost 2 Million bodies interred in Colma that there would be a lot more ghosts to pull from as opposed to the 5-10 we see, and some of those stories I would hope would be interesting to read.
Ultimately what I was hoping for and what the book seemed to be promoted as containing; a policeman engaging and possibly policing the dead. This is not what I got. Instead it was an accident prone and pedantic rookie cop who could never seem to make a decision and who I found myself almost screaming at out loud to "just do something!". Every time I would think something was going to happen that would make him more active he would go the opposite way. I do recall from my fiction writing courses in college that one of the goals for a protagonist or antagonist is the element of choice; whether they do something or nothing we need to see the decision to do one or the other. I suppose one could say we at least experience this.
In the end... I cannot recommend this book to anyone. I was hoping for something along the lines of Charlaine Harris' Harper Connolly series but instead I got a police story that I would imagine Stephanie Meyers writing.