The book jacket description and a handful of pull quotes (from writers with ties to the McSweeney’s camp, mostly) were enough to get me to read Alive in Necropolis, but the novel exceeded the expectations I had of it. It sounds perhaps a bit silly in capsule form: emotionally fragile rookie cop Michael Mercer rescues Jude, a kid who’s been running with a crowd a little bit badder than he can really handle, from a wild night that almost wound up with his death. In the course of trying to find Jude’s assailants, Mercer gets entangled in his predecessor’s final case, in which the late Sergeant Featherstone worked “the graveyard beat” more literally than Mercer can first accept.
But the description doesn’t convey the subtlety and sureness Dorst brings to the material (I would never have guessed this was a debut novel). In a brief interview at Devourer of Books, Dorst acknowledges a debt to Stewart O’ Nan’s The Night Country, another novel about a troubled cop (his troubles include relating to teens and to dead folks). But although I liked The Night Country a fair bit, I think Alive in Necropolis is a better, and far more surprising book. Dorst’s prose is also liberally salted with descriptions so incisive I had to read several aloud to my wonderful girlfriend, and his dialogue positively crackles. (In most years this would probably be my favorite fiction book of the year; it’s Dorst’s rough luck that I also read The Raw Shark Texts.) It’s not perfect; toward the end the parallels between Jude and Mercer are just a smidge oversold. But it’s awfully good.
needs more demons? no, but Dorst needs to write more books.