"My father was an English Professor. I’m not. Call me Chalk."In a genre where the names Marlowe and Spenser cast such huge shadows, of course it's time for a Chaucer. Better yet? He hates the name.
This starts off with a new client with a very 21st century kind of case, but still proceeds like something out of Chandler. The further that Chalk gets into it, the stranger and twistier it gets. But in the background, we keep learning about a spree of atypical robberies. The way that the various threads start to integrate is something I didn't expect. And once integrated? The whole thing gets even more unexpected.
Allison frequently begins chapters with a lengthy info-dump about something -- a mini-essay from Chalk's perspective. Sometimes the info-dumps these work, other times they're pretty jarring. The information about say, medical insurance, prior to meeting the analyst for Blue Shield? That one worked for me. The listing of Chalk's tattoos? Eh, not so much.
The action of the novel belongs to the present -- to Chalk's case, the drug crimes -- but the heart, the grounding of the character? That belongs to the flashbacks, the doomed marriage, the child he doesn't get to see, the hunt for a serial killer that no one else believes exists. The more outrageous parts of his character, the outlandish abilities, activities -- that's the fun, that's the fantasy. The book as a whole is a great mix of the two.
Chalk is damaged, an outsider, an underdog in classic noir-style (see also: his name). At the same time -- he's very successful and impossibly gifted, something out of a science fiction novel, really. Giving this sort of a cyberpunk feel -- but instead of being set 15 minutes in the future (which is how I see all cyberpunk), Dark Digital Sky is a cyberpunk novel set 15 minutes ago.
I'm not convinced these elements work on their own -- but even if they do, this is definitely a "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" kind of thing, somehow this all works. I've never read anything like this before -- which is probably good, because most people would make a wreck of it. Not Allison, this is a strong vision told with a sure voice. Can't wait for more.
I was provided a copy of this by the author, who seems like a pretty cool guy -- which made the fact that I really enjoyed even better. I like it when pretty cool people write pretty cool stuff.