Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Book: False Negative, by Joseph Koenig (2012)

Adam Jordan is a newspaperman on the way up, with talent and moxie to burn. He treats his gig at the Atlantic City Press like the pit stop he knows it to be – until his hubris leads him to make a catastrophic screw-up that costs him his job and his reputation. All he has to keep him afloat is a sideline cranking out nickel-a-word copy for a true crime magazine and the case that brought him to the rag’s attention, that of a beauty queen found strangled on a beach.

Joseph Koenig’s novel, his first in well over a decade, is steeped in the world of the 1950s pulps. It’s a world where truth is never stranger than fiction, because “Truth is bland, forgettable and often ridiculous. It’s the work of amateurs with spare imagination.” Where all cops are tenacious, all killers monstrous, and all victims na├»ve and trusting “unless they were prostitutes, strippers, or wayward youngsters asking for trouble.” Koenig’s book, out from Hard Case Crime this week, is brutal, not only in attitude but in execution. At times it seems to be written in the style of those bygone magazines, with jarringly abrupt shifts in perspective; who gives a damn about transitions when the lack of them gets you to the good stuff faster? The main story is forgotten for pages at a time as Jordan fishes about for other murders he can spin into fool’s gold, pitching them to his editor and the reader as luridly as possible. False Negative genuinely feels disreputable, no surprise considering its dedication reads “For Naught.”

So, yeah, it’s kind of great.

Here’s a sample chapter. And here’s Koenig recalling his own stint in the salt mines of the true crime pulps.