With publishers offering an enticing banquet of summer reads this year, our choices to pack into a geeky beach bag have been impressive, with something for every literary appetite from far-out space adventures and twisted fairy tales to time-travel odysseys and historic wagon train terrors.
Spanish author Edgar Cantero's offbeat beauty from Doubleday, This Body's Not Big Enough for Both of Us, is one of the surprise hits of the season with its unforgettable pair of chimeric twin private investigators in a kooky crime thriller destined to earn a coveted place on your August reading list.
The New York Times-bestselling novelist made a huge splash last year with Meddling Kids, a nostalgic slice of '70s Americana injected with a Lovecraftian, Stranger Things-ish plot, and now he's back with a weirdly refreshing book that defies definition and invites intimate perusal of its many zany characters.
A. Kimrean and Z. Kimrean are twin noir-type detectives, but it's a partnership like you've never seen before... a man and a woman who share the same androgynous body yet clash constantly as each tries to exert control over the other. Audacious, clever, and ridiculously entertaining at every page turn, the storyline follows the exploits of A.Z. Kimrean, who is basically two people sharing one body.
Adrian is the cold-hearted, calculating male half, while Zooey acts as the impulsive, hard-drinking, femme-fatale side while they pass the days working as private eyes in drug-infested San Carnal, California, after a series of murders against a ruthless cartel family quickly emerges as a much larger conflict than first imagined. Subverting familiar tropes of the detective genre is a fertile playground for Cantero, and the result is something extraordinarily alluring.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Cantero about this crazy pair of P.I.s, blending the notions of gender amid the old-fashioned cliches of hard-boiled detective fiction, how the character of A.Z. Kimrean was born, and where readers will go on this wild literary ride.
After the chat, check out an exclusive excerpt from the novel, courtesy of Doubleday!
What is it about the classic noir detective story that grabs you?
EDGAR CANTERO: What I like best about genre fiction is how the tropes that shape it sound familiar to everybody—even to those who have not been exposed to the classics. Children don’t need to sit through a John Ford film to recognize a western parody in cartoon form. You don’t need to read Chandler or watch Bogart movies to have a notion of noir.
What was the genesis for This Body's Not Big Enough for Both of Us?
EC: In 2011, I started writing flash fiction stories under the title Noir for El Jueves, a Spanish satirical magazine. The pieces were only 200-400 words long, but I worked under the assumption that a first-person narrator mentioning a few key concepts would be enough to trigger in my readers the mental images of smoking sleuths and femme fatales in dramatically lit, rent-by-the-week offices. That’s why (I think) stories so brief were still engaging: I didn’t need to waste too much space setting the atmosphere, so I could go straight for the weekly mystery—and the crass jokes. El Jueves can be considerably crass.
Noir ran for 20 weeks, but by the end I had grown fond of some of the themes. I had not read that much Chandler back then, but I’d enjoyed what I read. And I love Steve Purcell’s Sam & Max—that counts! So I thought I could pull off a whole novel in the genre, provided that I came up with another high concept to fuse it with. (This is something I often do: look over my list of project ideas and combine two ideas that don’t obviously go together. Instead of writing a novel about grown-up, traumatized teen detectives or my own entry for the Cthulhu Mythos, I wrote both (ed. Meddling Kids!)) I decided I would write my noir novel when I had an original concept for the lead, a twist on the classic cynical, cirrhotic P.I.
Later, somehow, I came up with the idea of the polar opposite chimeric twins trapped in a single hermaphroditic body. Yeah, that was twisted enough. Thus A.Z. Kimrean was (were) born.
What aspects of your own inspirations and interests did this manic book let you explore?
EC: This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us allowed me to indulge in so many of my favorite aesthetic motifs: San Francisco, muscle cars, gender-bending characters, palm-lined sin cities, Hollywood clichés, roadrunners! All laced with the kind of unsubtle humor I use in the magazine where it all started. The character of Green Teeth Murdoc and the case of the stalker in the rosebushes both were featured in those 200-word stories. Most of the rest is original. But not too original, I hope. Just familiar enough to make you feel comfortable before Kimrean bulldozes through your mental picture. Enjoy.
THIS BODY'S NOT BIG ENOUGH FOR BOTH OF US
The femme approached half a bottle of liquor next to some handcuffs on an upside-down carton. “There is a gun in your bed,” she pointed out the ongoing game of chess any idea who’s stalking you blueberry Pop-Tarts queen to xc5 into the toaster three hundred bucks, “Thanks, you can leave, Fiona Hearsh.”
Meanwhile, in the paltry bathroom, the neckless thug known as Rock bobbed up from his short lapse into unconsciousness to an unconfessable taste at the back of his throat. His jaw hurt. His associate lay facedown on top of him, knocked out. Beyond his body, far above, the bottom of the fractured sink looked like the unreachable dominion of angels.
His right arm was bent behind his own back. Every cramped muscle from the shoulder down moaned loudly while he freed it, but he took pleasure in that pain. Pain meant anger. Anger meant will. He grudgingly pushed his partner off toward the toilet and heaved himself up, careful not to cut his palms on the broken glass. The stab wound to his thigh sent out a tortured distress signal, but he gulped down the scream.
As Gravel drowsily stirred back to life, Rock cracked his ten knuckles and stood before the door whence the clown’s voice could be heard. Vengeance awaited behind that door. Sweet, cathartic vengeance.
Then, within the next second, the door exploded open, banging his head, and Kimrean dashed in and dove into the shower.
And in the second after that one, a bullet wave pierced the door and sank into Rock’s vital organs.
Inertia allowed him to open the door and stagger out, his senses again shutting down one by one. Taste was the last to go and, as he plummeted forward, it informed him that he had forgotten to remove the plug from his mouth.
Kimrean reached to close the door as the body outside hit the floor like a mass-extinction event.
The celebration, however, had to be postponed at the sight of the enormous shoes that had just appeared behind the door, blocking the way to the window.
Gravel hoisted the P.I. by the throat, held them at full arm’s length. Kimrean didn’t have time to come up with a flattering comment on the thug’s new face before the guy covered the length of the room in one stride and whammed them into the shower, two feet in the air, then swept them across the wall and crashed them again into the southeast corner. The whole wall trembled with the shock: inches from the shower, it was likely rotten and damp. It would make a nice visual memory, Gravel thought, to knock that freaky lollipop head clean through the plaster.
Before he could throw the punch, though, another roaring burst of gunfire came from the main room. Bullet holes blossomed into the corner, on either side of Kimrean’s waist, two slugs actually grazing their waistcoat and belt, one sinking into Gravel’s abdomen.
“F***!” he cried, tumbling back. “Boss! I’m back here!”
It was useless: the shooting continued, bullet holes popping all over the wall and sweeping back toward the door, while both the thug and the detective lay down, covering their heads from the flying debris, Kimrean trying to make conversation through the burst.
“He seems like a great employer.”
The thunder stopped, and Kimrean listened to the footsteps in the office and immediately grabbed the baseball bat and used it to wedge the door shut right before Murdoc twisted the handle from the other side.
That was the south exit blocked. West was the bathroom window, its promising view blocked again by Gravel, pressing his newest wound with one hand, gripping a mirror shard in the other, growling out of a bloodied mouth.
Kimrean measured the distance to the window, subtracted it from the length of the room, guessed the resistance left in the bullet-ridden partition wall behind them. It would have to be east.
A long-condemned second of calm died in the clangor of Kimrean blasting through the wall, an avalanche of plaster—
From the Book: THIS BODY’S NOT BIG ENOUGH FOR BOTH OF US by Edgar Cantero. Copyright © 2018 by Edgar Cantero. Reprinted by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.