New York taxicabs form the nexus of the drug trade in this messy near-future crime novel, journalist Dunn’s debut.
The city is a bleak place in 2012, ravaged by double-digit inflation and unemployment. Buildings stand empty, restaurants shuttered. Organized crime, though, has seized the opportunity. Catering to a young, well-heeled party crowd, it has created a network of “speaks,” illegal bars that float between locations, never used more than once. As for the drugs, the dealer gets his money from the clients, then directs them to a waiting cab, where the product is stashed. It works like clockwork, explains Renny, the young fashion photographer who sells Specials (Ecstasy pills) as a lucrative second job. He gets his cut from underworld boss Reza, a Bulgarian who first turned the cabs into the eponymous rivers of gold. When he’s not working, Renny the stud is having wild sex with L, who he dumps in favor of N. (He likes his gorgeous babes depersonalized.) “I really can have it all,” he gloats. Such hubris will not go unpunished; already there are warning signs (a murdered cabbie, a looming turf war) and the cops are catching on. They are represented by Detective Santiago, a hulking young Dominican-American, and his mysterious new partner Everett More. More is uncommunicative but frighteningly good at breaking bones. The opponents are now in place, but the novel stalls. Exposition trumps action. The revelation that More is a Marine entails a lecture on the Posse Comitatus Act; the search for the cabbie’s killer pauses for a survey of the taxicab business. The old maxim (write what you know) becomes in Dunn’s handling something different (write what you research). His predilections (guns, acronyms and really, really large people) poke through the narrative. A car chase (good guys pursuing good guys) and a high-tech showdown absent Reza make for an unsatisfying climax.
Dunn has hung his story on a gimmick (the cab thing). It doesn’t work.