Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


The Big Boom by Domenic Stansberry








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Domenic Stansberry reprises private investigator Dante Mancuso in a new novel, The Big Boom, and sets it in his hometown San Francisco neighborhood when the dot-com boom had begun to pop. What Stansberry does so well in this novel is make it all personal: family and close relationships trump everything else. Even the dead speak in this novel, and call for action. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 3, pp. 15-18:


Unlike the living, who held their secrets within, the corpse had no shame. It no longer spoke in the language of the tongue, with all its limitations, but in the language of pu­trescence. Of stench and gastric fluids. Of unexpected gurgles and gaseous discharges. Did you love me? The medical coroner, as well as the detectives who had grappled the body from the bay were famil­iar to some degree with the language of the dead, but their translit­erations were not precise. They had their evidence kits, their test reagents, their sliced organs in plastic sacks, and their niass spectrometers—but these only told the investigators so much. There was too much noise in the field, so to speak: the rattle of their own lives, the hollering of spouses and children, the flushing of toi­lets, the sound of their own rumbling bellies. With so much inter­ference, it was all but impossible to filter the noise from the message.

No, no. Look at me.

Nonetheless, there were things that could be determined. A Woman in her early thirties. Four days in the water, maybe five. Traces of aspirated foam in her airways. Lungs bloated, chest dis­tended. The medical examiner suspected death by drowning, though it was hard to be definitive in such instances. It was possible, too, the young woman had been dead before she went in. There were wounds to her head and extremities, but it was hard to tell what these meant. The corpse typically got battered as it was dragged along the bottom by the currents.

Don’t let me go.

The skin was maccrated on the finger pads, and her face and nose looked as if they had been abraded. The soft parts of the face had been eaten by crabs and bottom fish. The translucency was gone from the skin. The lividity was blotchy about the head and the chest—pink in places but already gone dusky and cyanotic in oth­ers. Decomposition had been slowed somewhat by the coldness of the bay, but the putrefaction advanced quickly once the body was in the open air. The clothes, sodden with water, were stripped away and placed in evidence bags.

A pleated skirt, label from Dazio’s.

Black hose.

A pair of pumps. Purple.

A silk blouse.

Pearl necklace.

A scarf.

No wallet, though. No purse. No source of identification. The stripping of the clothes revealed more maceration, bloating of the limbs. Also bruises on the thighs and forearms—though again, whether these had occurred before death, or after, as the corpse thudded against the pier, was hard to tell. Examination of the vulva showed no signs of sexual penetration. Though again, this was hard to ascertain.

Fuck me.

All these details were written down, recorded in cramped forms to be followed by more reports from the pathologist. Whisperings of the dead, duly noted. If you read the hieroglyph correctly, it led to other documents, to a Missing Persons report, maybe, and even­tually to an address. And inside that address were rooms, drawers filled with bills, papers, more scribblings, phone messages, all of which led to friends and family, if there were any, hence to conver­sations with the living, more hieroglyphs transliterated through memory and dreams.

Don’t forget me.

In the morgue now, there was the sound of the refrigeration unit: then footsteps—and a long metal drawer sliding open on its rusted hinge. The bag was zippered opened and a man sighed, peer­ing into the bag.

And maybe there was some vibration in the mass of cells there on the metal slab. Maybe there was something that connected the nerves to the cells to the fiber to the atrophying mass inside the plastic bag. Something that animated the swollen brain and the op­tic nerve and whatever was still sentient in that mass.

The man who peered in had a long nose and a sorrowful face and compassionate eyes. His looks had excited the corpse once upon a time, when it was not a corpse, when the bacteria that in­habited the animal were different bacteria and the energy congre­gated in a different way. The memory of him, or its chemical remains, lingered inside the flesh, and so his presence was recog­nized in some way. Or so the man imagined. He imagined the corpse peering out from the bag as he peered in.

In another minute he went away.

His footsteps receded, and then the corpse was slid back into the wall, into the cold and the dark.

Dante, the corpse whispered.

The voice was in his head, Dante told himself. It wasn’t real. But such distinctions didn’t matter. Take me home. Once it got inside of you, there it was. You had no choice but to listen. Don’t abandon me. Don’t leave me here.


Dante headed home to San Francisco after his father’s death, and in The Big Boom, he discovers as much about himself as he does about the victim and the killer.


Steve Hopkins, November 20, 2006



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the December 2006 issue of Executive Times


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