Depth | Lev A.C. Rosen | 2015 | Titan Books | 290p | Review copy | Buy the book
A few decades or so from now, the polar ice caps have melted and the eastern seaboard of America is underwater. New York City survives above twenty-one floors, everything below that is drowned within dangerous, storm-powered waters. But New York City continues to thrive, not least as a refuge from mainland America’s new draconian moral laws. The drowned city is effectively a separate country, a hub for intercontinental business, trading and smuggling. The buildings and the city’s mass of boats are linked by flimsy bridges and water taxis – death is just a misjudged footstep away.
Simone Pierce, the daughter of a policeman and detective, is a private investigator. She likes to think she’s one of the best, ready to do her utmost for clients without crossing that line that others she knows might wander over. Simone thinks of herself as friendless but she has three good friends – Caroline, the brusque and brittle Deputy Mayor, Danny, a hacker she protected who is fully integrated with the internet, and Peter, a policeman and schooldays’ friend whose bed she left without a goodbye. Simone has two cases on the go – Linnea St Michael believes her husband Henry is having an affair with a mysterious Blonde. As Simone chases Henry’s liaisons across the city she begins to have her doubts. Simone’s other case has been put her way by Caroline – Alejandro deCostas is an anthropologist or archaeologist from Europe who believes that floors below the twenty-first level still survive water-free within New York City. He is after treasure. He is also extremely goodlooking and a welcome distraction from the slippery Blonde.
The worldbuilding and mood in Depth are thoroughly enjoyable. It’s a dystopian future but with a difference. We’ve seen drowned cities before but this watery New York City is different – it has money floating around, there is futuristic technology, there is a functioning local government and police force, there are restaurants to suit every pocket. But the centrepiece of these restaurants is often the seascape of a drowned past. The bleakness comes from the distant mainland with its homophobic and misogynist laws. New York City is now closer in many ways to the progressive and technologically-advised East or the cultured and far-sighted Europe. The city is far enough away from the mainland to have its own codes. It is a place where people can break the rules.
However, I don’t think that Depth is entirely successful and the main reason for that is that the worldbuilding and the excellent characterisation are let down by the plot. The mystery is predictable and contrived, and it is also full of coincidences. It’s soon pretty clear what the main puzzle is about and it’s also obvious that there will be no loose ends and that everything will conveniently connect to everything else. On a side note, I also couldn’t understand why a great flood and the ensuing devastation would result in an America in which women are forbidden by law to wear trousers.
Having said all that, I enjoyed Depth very much. Its atmospheric and rich portrayal of a drowned New York City, with the lethal waters waiting to claim new victims, was complemented by some fascinating characters. The story is told in the third person and I liked that. It gave more than one character the chance to shine. I really liked Simone. She is a strong personality, flawed and very human, who lives and breathes on the page. Likewise, Caroline is a joy to spend time with. Her grumpiness concealing genuine affection really appealed to me. The chief detective Kluren is another intriguing female figure. There’s a strong sense that there’s a story there waiting to be told. It’s interesting that this novel has a fair few imposing, fascinating female characters, much more interesting in my opinion than the male characters.
The dialogue is smart and witty, the movement is fast, and the world is chillingly lethal – at least until the twenty-first floor when suddenly we find ourselves in a futuristic world in which life has most definitely found a way to prosper. I do hope that Lev A.C. Rosen will return us to Simone and her world.