Hipsters are getting slashed to pieces in the hippest neighborhood in New York City: Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As fear and tension rise in the summer heat, police detectives Petrosino and Hadid eye local gangbangers for the crimes. Meanwhile, slacker reporter Tony Moran and his ex-girlfriend Magaly Fernandez pursue a cold case involving an old woman who mysteriously disappeared a year before. But the closer they all get to the truth, the closer they get to losing their heads.
Filled with a broad cast of local characters and told with sardonic wit, this fast-moving, intricately plotted story plays out against a backdrop of rapid gentrification, skyrocketing rents, and class tension, written like only a true native could.
Title: Hipster Death Rattle | Author: Richie Narvaez | Publisher: Down & Out Books | Pages: 362 | ISBN: 9781948235631| Publication date: 11th March 2019| Source: Review copy provided by the author
‘Hipster Death Rattle’ is very much a book of two halves. At times it’s brilliant, but at others it’s rather lacklustre and whilst it left a lasting impression on me it wasn’t always the most engaging of reads. The book is set in a community in Brooklyn that is slowly being invaded by rich, white youngsters who are driving up prices and forcing out the Latinx inhabitants. An unknown attacker is killing members of the community with a machete. When he kills a colleague of local reporter Tony Moran, Tony learns some things about his co-worker that lead him to investigate the disappearance of a neighbourhood woman. Naturally there is more to both the machete attacks and the disappearance than there appears to be, and the plot ends up examining all aspects of the life in the district.
What is great about the book is the richness that Richie Narvaez brings to both his characters and the place they live. They’re a varied bunch, but all vibrant and believable. None of them are perfect, but few are truly bad either. The shifting plot, with its many twists and red herrings, reveals them all to be as multi-faceted and mercurial as people really are. Similarly, the fabric of the community itself is richly described and it came to be a real and convincing place in my mind.
Where the books scores fewer points is in the story itself. The plot, as noted above, is nicely twisting, but I was never as gripped by the mysteries as I wanted to be. I think there are two problems. Firstly, the slasher never feels like that much of a threat. Many of his victims escape with their lives, and they tend to be characters who are introduced only to get attacked, rather than ones that I had come to care about. Secondly, it feels like there is too much going on. The competing sub-plots ended up clashing with each other. I found that my attention was split between the two and I therefore never felt like I was fully invested in either.
These problems are a great shame, as there was so much good about this book. Aside from the wonderful characterisation, it’s often very funny and politically astute in a way that’s engaging rather than patronising. Despite my problems with the plot, Narvaez manages to bring things together well at the end. ‘Hipster Death Rattle’ shows real promise for a first novel, and I’ll certainly look out for his next book.