Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review of Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski (Minotaur Books, 2010)

Mickey Wade has lost his job as a journalist and unable to afford his upscale apartment in central Philadelphia he reluctantly moves into his Grandfather’s apartment in down at heel, Frankford. The neighbourhood is where Wade grew up, the place he was desperate to escape from, especially after his musician father died. With his grandfather in hospital, he has the place to himself, and flat broke he adopts a slacker diet – apples (fibre), peanuts (protein) and beer (grains) - listens to his father’s albums on an old turntable, and munches on some old Tylenol tablets that have some very strange consequences – they transport him back in time to the same apartment in the early 1970s. An apartment occupied by Dr DeMeo, who specialises in researching out of body experiences for the military; an apartment located directly above that of a single mother and her twelve year old son who will grow up to murder Wade’s father.

I was a little dubious of the sci-fi meets pulp crime fiction cross-over, but Swierczynski carries if off with aplomb. The Wheelman was one of my best reads of 2009 and I was delighted to spot Expiration Date in a bookshop in Reagan Airport in DC. The first two pages were enough to convince me to add weight to my carry-on bag, and moreover make me consider seriously putting the book I was presently reading to one side. The start is a big, juicy worm baited on a razor sharp hook; one of the best openings I’ve read in quite a while. The story is meticulously plotted and surprisingly credible given the time travel element, and the pacing is high tempo without being rushed. The characterisation is strong and the dialogue snappy and realistic. Unusually, the story is accompanied by some illustrations by Laurence Campbell, who does work for Marvel Comics, and they nicely complement the narrative. The telling went a tiny bit flat in places (I suspect because it was originally written as 12 equal length instalments that were to be serialised in the New York Times before the section was unfortunately dropped), but in all honesty there’s very little to dislike – this is top quality stuff. It’s increasingly difficult for an author to find their own voice and to come up with relatively novel premise - Swierczynski scores on both counts and, even though I’ve only read two of his books, he’s quickly become a favourite author.

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