Delirium Books, Leisure Books / 286 pages / July 2002
Ever glare over your shoulder at the ghostly notes leaking out of some jerk’s earphones and roll your eyes at their choice of music? No matter how old you are or what your own tastes lean to you know you’ve done it. And if you’re among the billions who just don’t get what people see in trance? Then you can really relate. Mindless, some call it. Endlessly repetitive? Maybe so (okay, definitely so), but what if there is something between those monotonous tones. What if the rest of us just can’t hear it?
Well, in the case of Michael Laimo’s characters, then you’re one of the lucky ones. Something is definitely hiding within the techno, and it’s something very nasty. There is blood in the Atmosphere. Too much blood, and there’s going to be much more if someone can’t stop the slaughter.
They may not be able to stop it, but Hector and Frank, two very tired, battle-worn cops, aren’t going to give up as long as they still function. This is a case like nothing they’ve ever faced; they may, in fact, be over-matched, but that’s only going to slow them down a bit more. Nothing short of death will make them drop the case — a distinct possibility, given what they are up against.
Laimo’s first novel is a gritty, driving force of a story. The connection between Hector and Frank is a large part of that intensity, with their mutual determination to end the bloodshed and reach the truth in the case. Often, they seem close enough to complete each other’s thoughts, but always working with an emotional distance between them that adds even more tension to an already taut tale.
The one jarring element is Frank’s too frequent reminders of the warring personas within him. Readers can easily identify with this internal division; constant referrals to it serve only to break the flow of narrative and throw the reader out of the compelling flow of Laimo’s prose. A more subtle device would convey the conflict without interrupting the narrative.
But, that’s a small enough annoyance in a debut novel of so many strengths. Some may snicker at the final revelation of the need for all the deaths; others may find it a brilliant, unique twist. Whatever your reaction, the enjoyment of Atmosphere is in the clear, straightforward prose, the well-shaped characters, the urgency of the pacing that pushes you rapidly toward the climax, in addition to the harrowing story. The hint of a sequel at the hint is a promise, not a threat.
With a wealth of short fiction backing him up, it’s gratifying to see what Laimo can do with the novel length format. It’s a strong debut that should leave readers eager to see where his imagination will lead Laimo next. And where his fiction will lead all of us.