i like a lot of what shepard has been doing recently. early work, such as what is contained in the anthology barnacle bill the spacer, and the zombie novel green eyes was a bit hit and miss with me. always well written, the choices that he made for thematics and central ideas left me cold. nothing wrong with it--just a taste thing, really. but, in the last year or so, i've come around and found shepard's new work: the novella louisiana breakdown, another novella 'jailwise', the short novel valentine, and now floater, to pick just a few. (for those curious, the archives of scifi.com are a good place to find shepard's new work.) it feels as if there has been a growth, or a new focus for shepard's work, but there's probably a point to be made that i'm not the same guy i was when i first picked up barnacle bill the spacer.
but, returning to floater.
i'm not sure floater's word count, but it's a hundred and fifty pages, and a dense little book, putting it squarely in the 'novel' category, as opposed to novella. personally, i'm not fussed by either, but some people are. at any rate, floater begins with detective william dempsey, drowning his self hate in pills and vodka and bad day time television. a few months prior, dempsey and his partners, pinero and haley, shot israel lara, a haitian immigrant, who they had thought was armed. turned out he was holding a wallet.
sounds familiar, doesn't it? clearly, shepard has used that case, which i'm a bit sketchy on now, as the place from where to launch his book. (oddly, what i remember most about this case is an episode of the awful truth, where michael moore went around giving black men glow in the dark wallets, and set a billboard up for police to instruct them on the difference between guns and wallets.) at any rate, the melding of the incident into the fiction is done deftly, and quite strongly, with shepard taking the difficult task of presenting a sympathetic character as one of the shooters. which is not to say that shepard gives dempsey a moment of forgiveness (though neither does he demonise him) as he tours through a voodoo tinged new york, lead by the disease, the 'floater' that is obscuring the vision on one of his eyes, and a desire to absolve himself.
the flavour of the novel is noir, with the fantastical elements creeping in slowly around the edges, building up to the climax. it's done quite well by shepard, and with a brisk pace that doesn't allow you to stop and question things in the plot. i had a few moments where i did, and if, by chance that you're reading this novel, all i can is that you should trust in where shepard is going, as everything has a place. indeed, such is the strength of the narrative that shepard has crafted, that has not a word or scene is placed within it as padding or waste.
anyhow, as you can see, i enjoyed this. the only real quibble i have with it, is that i wanted a stronger presentation of the voodoo/haitian culture, but since floater is narrated from the point of view of white cop dempsey, it would have been a difficult thing to put in. to get that stronger view, i think you would have had to narrate it from the point of view of a different character, and that'd change it quite dramatically. and the book itself has a couple of printing mistakes, most of them having to do with the wrong speech mark being placed after a dash that breaks up dialogue, but that's a minor thing. it's still a very nice and fine looking book from ps publishing.