cover image The Dead Do Not Improve

The Dead Do Not Improve

Jay Caspian Kang. Hogarth (Random, dist.), $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-95388-9

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. (Aug.)