Novel Ideas
Dying Is My Business

By Jorge Figueiredo - March 3rd, 2014

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Urban fantasy is something that hasn’t really jived with me for a while, at least in regards to some of the recent novels that I have read. More often than not, I find myself picking up a story only to ditch it after a hundred pages or so, frustrated with the quality of the tale. Dying Is My Business, by Nicholas Kaufmann, is an interesting take on the “stranger who can’t remember his past”. With interesting supernatural elements, and decent writing, this book is actually quite entertaining – and worth the read if you’re looking to escape from the heavy chains of non-fiction for a while.

Trent is a man with an interesting problem. You’d think it was because he works as a “collector” for a sinister underworld figure, and finds himself constantly being threatened by his boss (and his bosses’ enforcers). You’d think it was because he can’t remember anything that occurred more than a year ago, that his earliest memory is a brick wall with an odd symbol carved into it. No, his interesting problem is that he can’t die. When Trent kicks the bucket, his body “steals” the total life force of the closest living person. Trent wakes up a few minutes later, completely healed and very much alive, while his generous donor ends up expiring, leaving behind a dessicated husk.

Given that Trent normally deals with the scum of society, his conscience tends to only weigh him down slightly; Trent seems to be a decent person, who is stuck in a bad situation. Unfortunately, his latest unwitting victim was a small boy, whose only crime was that he lived in a crack house – a victim of poverty and addiction. To the amusement of his employer, Underwood, Trent’s guilt about the small boy is intense, and Trent is having his doubts about continuing his current line of work. Unfortunately, Underwood’s hold over Trent is too strong – because Underwood is withholding information that would help Trent unravel the web of his own past, and aid him in his quest to find out why he’s so different from other people.

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This novel is decently written, with minimal linguistic weirdness – which is always a plus. The only issue that I had with the writing was that there were a few acronyms that could have been expanded, as the reader may not be familiar with some of the ins-and-outs of New York. That minor issue aside, the pacing is great and I found that I was swept up fairly quickly in the plot and couldn’t put the story down (which was not necessarily the best thing for me, as I had a bad cold and needed to sleep). Kaufmann does a great job of lifting an imaginary veil from a New York that may exist – it’s a pretty great story with plenty of bite to keep your mind occupied.

One of the biggest issues that I have with a lot of modern fiction is that authors get bogged down with lengthy descriptions. Really, there is not much that needs to be done once the reader’s imagination is engaged – maybe a few adjectives to set the stage and the mind can fill in the rest. One of the techniques that Kaufmann uses to “hand-wave” the descriptions while immersing the reader is to really cash in on Trent’s point of view. For instance, let’s say Trent walks into a room and sees another person who has a distinctive green tie with pink polka-dots, from that point on, that person’s name becomes “Polka-dot Tie”, and it doesn’t really matter what they look like. This method of nick-naming is a great way to keep you in the story while not getting stuck in the details. It keeps the pace going quite well.

Dying Is My Business is dark and action-packed, with great (and surprisingly believable) dialogue. Kaufmann does a great job incorporating everyday humour into the mix with some flair. Some of the humour is slightly out of place, but most of it is spot-on and didn’t strike me as awkward. I find the dialogue is really the key for me in novels like this – if things are stilted, or if the humour doesn’t really make sense the way it is presented, the story becomes a hard sell. In Dying Is My Business, the dialogue really does a good job of advancing the character development. The cherry on top is Trent’s constant internal monologue, which both directly points out the evolution of the other characters and indirectly shows Trent’s own development. The fact that you’re only really exposed to what Trent lets you in on just makes it that much more powerful when revelations appear about the plot and characters.

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Click the pic to go to Nicholas Kaufmann’s website.

Were this a standalone novel, I would be a bit more harsh; I’d state that the end of the novel still leaves a few things that require explanations. However, since the sequel is out later this year, I’m expecting that I’ll gain some insight based on some interesting information that shall pour forth from the pages – and I suspect that my curiosity shall be sated. With that said, if you like Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels with an urban twist, then Dying Is My Business should be right up your alley. The plot and characters could have walked right out of some of the games that gamers love so much.

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