If you suffer from a condition that makes you think you're dead, robbing you of all human feeling, does that make you a better killer for hire? Hawks' latest dystopian adventure explores the possibilities.
Since he suffered brain damage as the result of a motorcycle accident, New York facial recognition researcher Jacob Underwood has had Cotard's syndrome, a rare, actual affliction that creates a "living dead" state. Only by imagining his life force as a spark inside the shell of his physical being is he able to handle his "Transformation" and live in a corrupt world—a world in which nubots have replaced huge numbers of young Americans and Europeans in the workplace, leading to the violent mass demonstrations of the Day of Rage. He hates to be touched and subsists solely on a protein drink. Hired by a superpowerful New York conglomerate to eliminate embezzlers and snitches—he does need money to get by—he proves a brilliant and resourceful operative. But as coldly efficient as he is at shooting grown men and women, something tugs at his buried conscience when he's ordered to kill a whole family. The novel, told through his point of view, charts a significant change in his condition as he pursues a plucky young woman he oddly finds he's growing to like. The fascination, however, lies less in the plot than in the intricacies of Underwood's coping system, which the character explains through charts, diagrams and lists. What constitutes life? Doctors keep telling him he's still among the living, even if he lacks the emotion that makes people feel alive. Is he more alive than the nubots?
With its fascinating protagonist, Hawks' first book since his Forth Realm trilogy sets itself apart from other futuristic thrillers.