JACK O’CONNELL – Box Nine. Lenore Thomas #1. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1992; paperback, 1993.

   I started this with more anticipation than usual, and less certainty. It’s had a great deal of publicity, much more than a first novel usually gets, and though the reviews have been mostly favorable, still I really didn’t have a good sense of what to expect, other than something extremely hardboiled. And that, at least, I got.

   Lenore Thomas is a policewoman, an undercover narcotics agent. Her twin brother, Ike, is a postman. They live together in a duplex in a mythical city [Quinsigamond] somewhere (I assume) in Massachusetts. The book turns around the introduction of a new designer-drug with strange and ultimately lethal properties.

   Reviewers and would-be critics are lost without comparisons, and are prone to grab at unlikely ones when obvious and apt ones are not readily at hand. I’m going to avoid that trap, but possibly at the cost of leaving you as unsure of what Box Nine is all about as I was. There are, though, a few things I can tell you.

   The book presents a bleak, grim view of urban life, and of those urban denizens that it depicts. The story is told in the present tense and from shifting view-points; Lenore’s, Ike’s, a drug lord’s, another police woman’s, Ike’s supervisor at the Post Office, and they are all strange people. Lenore is arguably the strangest: a speed freak, heavy metal devotee, in love with her guns if she is in love with anything and overall one of the more different protagonists in recent memory. The prose serves the story well. The plot? Secondary, at best; what you have are people dancing in and out of a semi-apocalyptic vision.

   Do I recommend it? Lord, no. If you don’t like hardboiled fiction, you shouldn’t touch it with a pair of tongs. Even if you do, I have no idea whether you’d be glad you read it or not — and notice my avoidance of the terms “like” and “enjoy,” which seem inappropriate. Am I glad I did? No, I don’t believe I am. But it was different; I’ll give it that much.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #3, September 1992.

       The Quinsigamond series —

1. Box Nine (1992)
2. Wireless (1993)
3. The Skin Palace (1996)
4. Word Made Flesh (1998)