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May 18, 2014 | by  | in Arts Books |
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Drowing City by Ben Atkins [Review]

4 stars

Ben Atkins wrote Drowning City when he was 17. It’s the sort of novel I wish I’d written at 17: a story about Max Fontana searching for his friend Luca in the bootlegging underworld of the 1920s. While it may seem like the average hard-boiled crime novel that continues to be popular, it isn’t. Max Fontana is a criminal himself, and the book rarely dips into the tropes found in crime novels, though Atkins was clearly inspired by them. His clichés (a black pianist named Sam, for example) are forgivable if not forgettable.

Atkin’s writing is fast-paced and conversational. The dialogue is sharp, witty and (if the rumours are true) will suit being made into a film script. The story does occasionally sink into deep metaphors that sometimes seem unnecessary, but at less than 300 pages it’s still not too deep and dragging for young-adult fiction. The city becomes a character in itself with the lively descriptions associated with it. Fontana is a criminal with a conscience. He won’t carry a gun and he questions more than the novel seems to answer. Drowning City is occasionally more dark than necessary but this is a fault of the bleakness of the era, and not Atkins’ writing.

It’s apparent that Atkins has done his research, and you can barely tell this wasn’t written by an American writer. Drowning City is a brilliant first novel from a highly talented young author. I look forward to reading (or seeing!) his future endeavours.

 

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