Depth is the second novel by American author Lev A.C. Rosen, and has set out to move the old fashioned hard boiled detective story into the future. In this sort of dystopian New York, melting ice caps have submerged the former coast such that everything below the old 21st story is underwater. Into this weird sort of city, our protagonist Simone Pierce tries to solve a mystery that ends up being about a bunch of sort of random stuff out of nowhere and then it ends. A confusing sort of book that felt like it was trying to go in multiple directions at once, and so didn’t go far enough in any of them to really land with me. Some socio-political commentary that was so heavy-handed as to feel like a Star Trek episode made an appearance here as well. And while I’m never one to object to social commentary, when it comes to effective commentary, Depth lacked any.
In a post-apocalyptic flooded New York City, a private investigator’s routine surveillance case leads to a treasure everyone wants to find—and someone is willing to kill for. Depth combines hardboiled mystery and dystopian science fiction in a future where the rising ocean levels have left New York twenty-one stories under water and cut off from the rest of the United States. But the city survives, and Simone Pierce is one of its best private investigators. Her latest case, running surveillance on a potentially unfaithful husband, was supposed to be easy. Then her target is murdered, and the search for his killer points Simone towards a secret from the past that can’t possibly be real—but that won’t stop the city’s most powerful men and women from trying to acquire it for themselves, with Simone caught in the middle.
So I’ll start off with the more silly quibble I have with this story. Saying that New York is under ‘21 stories of water’ is a pretty useless thing to tell us. The majority of New York City is between 0-150 feet above sea level on the ground. 21 stories of water is about 250 feet of water. So the city is actually under anywhere between 250 and 500 feet of water depending on where you are when you say “21 stories”. This made trying to get any sort of sense of place about the city nearly impossible, and is pretty significant a thing to not explain fully. New York has almost 800 buildings that are over 320 feet tall, so if we assume minimal water coverage, there’s at most 800 buildings, most of which would be office buildings originally, that are at least four or five stories above the water. Spread across the whole city, there’d actually be barely any ‘neighbourhoods’ you could have with all the interconnected bridges and walkways that they have here. I suppose since this is at least somewhat futuristic, more buildings could have been built by then which were very tall, but the logic of the situation really didn’t feel like it matched the version Rosen describes here. For many readers, they won’t notice or care because this is sci-fi and disbelief is suspended from the get-go, but I like my worldbuilding reasonable, especially if the world is Earth,
On to the more serious issues I had with Depth. Flippantly I implied the lack of depth in my intro, and that really is the problem at hand. There were a number of darts thrown in various directions with none of the exposition to back them up. In this near-future dystopia, evidently the whole of Mainland America is under the thumb of very conservative very Christian religious leadership. This is roundly described from all directions as a ‘very bad thing’. From the extreme punishments for crimes, to the very puritan social attitudes (they’re described as having a large number of decency laws, being incredibly homophobic, patriarchal, etc. etc.), we’re supposed to immediately dismiss them as bad, and agree that lawless, smuggler, and criminal filled New York City is really a great place to be. The MacGuffin hanging over the plot is the horrible possibility that connections between New York and the mainland might be established in a way that basically ruins everything for everybody. The problem is we have absolutely no idea how we got there from here. The current trump religion are called ‘Boro-Baptisis’ which is a pretty transparent jab at the Westboro Baptist church, a group already roundly accepted as absurd crazy people by virtually everybody, including most other devout Christians of every other stripe. You need a little more than one or two off-handed mentions in a 260 page book to explain how they ended up in charge of the country, which we never got.
Plot-wise a number of the same issues were present. Rosen tried to do too many things. Pierce is on a case, and the case suddenly has larger implications which threaten to overwhelm her. So far so good. Things are pretty dark and crappy. This is aiming for Noir and sticks a few of the landings, but they’re mostly the real easy ones. The more complex narrative in Noir is sadly lacking. Her interpersonal struggles are played more like spats, her sex-life ends up being actually pretty uncomplicated all things considered, and enough people stick by her that it’s a pretty weaksauce Noir story. As a mystery, Pierce seems to be a step behind throughout. She gets most of her conclusions wrong, and screws up pretty hard a couple of times. Hard-boiled she may try to be, but her skills as ‘one of the best’ are not really up to snuff. Her competitor for the best detective title seems to have things pretty much under control as they story progresses.
So was this a terrible book? No not really. One of the advantages in sports like figure skating or diving is that the harder the program you’ve put together, the more you can screw up without finishing in last. I got the feeling Rosen was trying to be ambitious enough with Depth that even with the stumbles and the one bad world-building fall, he still manages to come out with a passable score. It was novel if nothing else to see the gender-swap between our hard-boiled detective, and the attractive bombshell client who might be a villain, even if a lot of the tone stayed the same. The obvious problems of our impending suffering at the hands of global warming is topical, if overdone, and there were a few little turns of dialogue that struck my fancy. Altogether, a competent second novel from an author with potential that is still being developed. I’d read another novel by Rosen, as long as it wasn’t trying to be a sequel to Depth which was a little out of its.
Dan received an Advanced Review Copy of this book by Regan Arts via NetGalley.