In this follow-up collection, Dean (Cruel and Unusual, 2017, etc.) delivers four speculative tales centered on a near future American criminal justice system and its harrowing outcomes.
The book kicks off with “Dummy,” which follows two auto mechanics, Robert Holman and Juan Ortega, who are hoping for a relaxing night of drinks. They drive home drunk, resulting in an accident that kills an innocent woman; one of the men survives and goes on trial for vehicular homicide, among other charges, and if convicted, he’ll face a truly startling punishment. Indeed, all four of these Arizona-set stories showcase new, offbeat ways to render judgment. In “Early Release,” inmate Kelvin Heyer, a lifer, has a chance to get out of prison, but thanks to the Victims’ Rights Amendment, the family of the man he killed during a botched bank robbery gets to hunt him for 24 hours. Like all the stories here, this one offers multilayered characters; although Heyer is the one serving time for murder, it’s the vengeful, homicidal family members who come across as villains. In “Public Pool,” Luis Ortiz and Carlos Noriega’s small company wins a bid to build eight new swimming pools in Phoenix; a competitor’s attempt to pilfer their business leads to blackmail and murder—as well as a very curious method for extracting a confession. A woman fights a traffic ticket in “Broken Justice” and learns that the cutting-edge, automated “courtroom pods” may have terrifying flaws. Each story is swiftly paced; in the aforementioned “Early Release,” for instance, the protagonist spends much of the narrative on the run. But Dean’s stories also provide profound critical assessments of capital punishment—executions are expedited, or broadcast on the Justice Department’s website. They also offer critiques on contemporary technology; “Public Pool,” for instance, makes it clear that people should be very wary of what they include in texts.
Entertaining and insightful crime stories.