Influence peddling—the telepathic kind—fuels the big city in this hard-boiled but soulful fantasy thriller.
After years spent conveying the thoughts of small-town coma patients to their relatives, 20-something psychic Calder heads for Manhattan, where he’s snapped up by a man named Sotto and his crew of psychics-for-hire. Like everything else in New York, ESP is a racket: By telepathically sussing out potential blackmail fodder or implanting irresistible commands in a target’s mind, Sotto’s contractors will, for a reasonable fee, convince a client’s troublesome tenant to move, a boss to confer a promotion or a business competitor to close up shop. Unfortunately, Calder’s first assignment—swaying a city councilman’s vote on a real estate development—bogs down when the pol proves to be a rare “stone”—someone impervious to psychic manipulation. Mentored by a psychic amateur boxer who doesn’t mind dishing out the occasional old-school beating-as-persuasion, Calder resorts to ever more frantic mental string-pulling as he fends off a rival crew trying to lobby the council in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, he drinks in an atmospheric demimonde—New York City is in many ways the novel’s beguiling antagonist—that includes a stripper with a heart of gold, a priest with a taste for demented violence and thuggish psychic twins who try to run him out of town with an excruciating headache. Connell (Counterfeit Kings, 2004) pulls the psychic scenario out of the usual mystical dungeon and gives it a bracing, noir-edged urban naturalism. For all their supernatural powers, his characters are prosaic working stiffs: hardened, on the make and embroiled in murderous criminal turf battles, yet reigned in—sometimes—by a modicum of professional ethics or Catholic guilt. Despite their direct links to other minds, they reveal themselves mainly in long, discursive conversations that meander through offbeat observations, half-remembered anecdotes and curlicued philosophical ruminations, all phrased in a fluid, punchy, endlessly entertaining vernacular. The engrossing result feels like an ESP-themed mashup of The Sopranos and The Wire as scripted by Quentin Tarantino.
A stylish reimagining of the psychic mystery genre.