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Dueling dual detectives - ‘This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us’

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Detective fiction is riddled with genre clichés and tropes, but there are also plenty of ways to subvert the expectations that come from noir.

For instance, what if instead of a single two-fisted, whiskey-swilling, Spade-esque detective, you had two? And what if they were brother and sister? What if they were twins? And what if they were twins who inhabited the same body? Not conjoined twins, mind you – one body, two people.

Well, then you’d have A.Z. Kimrean, the protagonist(s) of Edgar Cantero’s “This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us” (Doubleday, $25.95). The book is a weird, occasionally hallucinatory trip down a pop culture rabbit hole; it’s built on a foundation of detective fiction, but really, anything goes. Rapid-fire references and allusions abound; the dialogue crackles with anarchic wit. It’s a comic thriller unlike any you’ve ever read starring a character unlike any you’ve ever experienced.

The office door has two names on it: A. Kimrean and Z. Kimrean, Private Eyes. And there are two detectives, a brother and a sister. Adrian is the brother, logical and aloof. Zooey is the sister, creative and empathetic. But that’s where the twos … stop. There’s only one desk and one chair. And when someone comes in looking for help, they’re looking at just one body.

But it’s two people.

Adrian and Zooey aren’t conjoined twins; there’s just one body. And they aren’t a fractured personality; DNA evidence proves that they are two distinct people. And together, they are maybe the best private detectives that the West Coast has to offer. But when they’re enlisted to help solve a case involving drug kingpins in California’s dirtiest city, they might be in over their heads.

Victor Lyon – known on the streets simply as “the Lyon” – leads one of the country’s largest drug cartels. He lives in the hedonistic and sin-rich (and delightfully named) city of San Carnal. And someone is targeting his heirs. Someone is ruthlessly dispatching the Lyon’s cubs and no one seems to really understand who it is. Is it the Yakuza? The Mexican mob? Another unknown gang looking to make a splash? It’s up to Adrian and Zooey to figure it out – and hopefully stop a major gang war.

Along the way, they have to deal with overzealous law enforcement officers, including one undercover cop who’s in too deep and may not be able to get out. There are femme fatales a-plenty – particularly since the Kimreans play pretty fast and loose with the definition of the term. And of course, the wealth of pop cultural tidbits and tropes that mark the work of Edgar Cantero; nods to big dumb action movies and noir classics, Saturday morning cartoons and canonical literature.

And at the center of it all, one of the most bizarre sibling rivalries ever put to page.

Full disclosure: I assumed I was going to like this book, if only because I absolutely loved Cantero’s last offering “Meddling Kids.” But I also assumed there was no way the author could re-achieve the hilarious and strange heights hit by that story. I was wrong. “This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us” is just as good as its predecessor while being a very different book. The two share some stylistic and thematic DNA, but each is its own thing.

“This Body” is a very interior book; unsurprising, considering the nature of its protagonist(s). Cantero spends a lot of time teasing out the weird dynamic between Adrian and Zooey, drawing the reader along as we learn more and more about these two people as they try and navigate their unique circumstances. The interpersonal interactions between them are magnificent to read, capturing the bizarreness of the situation while also presenting the two as real, distinct people.

It really is remarkable.

Of course, “This Body” is also populated with a cast of idiosyncratic supporting characters that really flesh out the world that Cantero aims to create. The dysfunctional family at the helm of a drug empire, packed with a soap opera’s worth of overwrought relationships. The undercover cop whose faith and friendship mean the world to Adrian and Zooey … and whose fate might well rest in their hands. The doctor who proved the individual personhood of the Kimreans (though the “how” is never really explained) and who remains in their lives to this day. All are multi-dimensional and funny and weird and beautifully unique.

Cantero’s San Carnal is a funhouse mirror salute to societal self-involvement, an urban amalgam that imports bits of vital venality from a variety of cityscapes, from Vegas to Venice Beach. It’s an ideal setting for such a story, chimeric in much the same way as the story’s star(s).

“This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us” is a hilarious trip of a novel, self-aware and subversive in all the best ways. Cantero’s multitude of inspirations come together in a marvelous morass, creating a story driven by unconventional heroes and unexpected villains. It celebrates its influences even as it challenges them. A remarkable work from a remarkable writer.

Last modified on Monday, 20 August 2018 15:13

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