Synopses & Reviews
Hailed as The Awl’s 2012’s novel to anticipate, this glorious debut stars hippie detectives, a singular city, and an MFA student on the run.
On a residential Bay Area block struggling with the collision of gentrifier condos and longtime residents, stymied recent MFA grad Philip Kim is sleeping the night away when bullets fly through a window in his apartment building and end up killing one of his neighbors. Philip only learns about the murder the next day when bored and Googling himself. But when he gets caught up in the investigation and becomes the focus of an elaborate, violent scheme, he will learn far more than he ever wanted to about his former four-eggs-at-a-time borrowing neighbor Dolores Stone, aka “The Grey Beaver,” and her shocking connections to an underworld only a city like this one could create.
Siddhartha “Sid” Finch, a homicide detective bitter about everything except his gorgeous wife, and his phlegmatic, pock-marked partner Jim Kim, land the case. Sid and Jim race after Philip through a menacing, unknowable San Francisco fending off militant surfers, vaguely European cafes, and aggressive Advanced Creative Writing students as they all try to figure out just who’s causing trouble in this city they love to hate.
Exceedingly unique, pulsing with vigor and heart, and loaded with fierce, fresh language, The Dead Do Not Improve confirms Jay Caspian Kang as a true American original as obsessed with surfing and surviving as with the power of unforgettable storytelling.
"In this satirical debut novel, Philip Kim, a misanthrope with an M.F.A. in creative writing, becomes embroiled in an off-the-wall crime plot when his elderly neighbor is mysteriously killed. Like Kim, Siddhartha 'Sid' Finch, the privileged 'trustafarian' turned surfer cop assigned to investigate the case, heaps scorn on the motley denizens of Internet-obsessed San Francisco, zealously lampooning tech nerds, advanced creative writing students, a cabal of vegan Buddhist ex-hackers, and warring surfer gangs. Kang's voice is at once glib and vitriolic, his diatribes taking up the narrative space that a different novel might fill with finely wrought observation and detail; as a result, stabs at legitimate pathos, such as Kim falling in love or breaking down, are shallow and contrived. Kang has a gift for snide zingers, and his un-PC digressions on race and 'Koreanness' are among the book's freshest and most absorbing aspects. But too often chapters end in clunky cliffhangers that lead to little resolution or catharsis. Readers looking for a riveting crime novel where the pieces all add up in an illuminating way risk disappointment, and the rushed ending, which jumps several years into the future, supplies no clear answers. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
JAY CASPIAN KANG was born in Seoul and grew up in North Carolina. He is a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine and works as an editor at Grantland. He lives in Los Angeles.