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'This Body' Is Packed With Personality — Maybe Too Much

Okay, so I'm just gonna lay the nut of this out for you right at the beginning. The protagonist of Edgar Cantero's new novel, This Body's Not Big Enough For Both Of Us, is A.Z. Kimrean, a private detective. And A.Z. Kimrean the private detective is/are two different people — Adrian Kimrean and Zooey Kimrean — both inhabiting the same body.

No, not conjoined twins. No, not multiple personalities. In this case, Adrian and Zooey are brother and sister, but two wholly and completely different people (right down to the DNA) sharing a single body. There's some science to it, but it doesn't matter. There's some brief explanations of zygotes and Vanishing Twin Syndrome, but that doesn't matter either.

Two people, same body. You with me? One's Sherlock Holmes — all logic, deduction and right brain. The other's a drunken, drug-addled left-brain nymphomaniac who writes, paints, plays multiple musical instruments and chases after sensation like a molly-rolling club kid with a MENSA membership and zero impulse control. They share the body — an androgynous, stylish, forever wounded vessel with polychromatic eyes and severe pronoun difficulties, collectively referred to as A.Z.

Honestly, not much more than that matters here. This Body is a book about A.Z. — a goofy, psycho-comic romp and winking, self-aware parody of detective noir in all its brilliance and all its failings, which is at its truest and best when it is nothing but Adrian and Zooey fighting with each other over who gets to talk, who gets to drive, who's smarter, who's meaner and who gets to experience the world at any given moment.

It is manic. One word review? Manic, full stop. This Body takes no breaths. No rests. It starts with a dame, a Central Casting femme fatale, entering Kimrean's office while the next scene's thug is literally waiting in the hallway for his turn to start a gunfight. The plot is about a crime kingpin whose children and heirs are being targeted one by one for assassination. The cops need A.Z. to convince him that it is NOT the Yakuza doing the targeting, so that the kingpin won't start a gang war that'll botch the undercover investigation being conducted by the cops, state troopers, FBI, CIA, Girl Scouts — pretty much everyone simultaneously, all working to bring down all the gangs in town. They want Adrian. They get Zooey in the bargain because that's just how these things go.

And after that, This Bodybasically just pinballs from gunfight to car chase to investigation to car chase to gunfight with a little bit of shopping and drinking and chess thrown in — excuses for Cantero to have Adrian and Zooey scrap some more, Fight Club style, one body doing its damnedest to beat the ever-loving hell out of itself.

Cantero is the guy who wrote Meddling Kids, which was one of my favorite books of last year. In that, he turned his satirical eye on what happens to kid sleuths when all the Scooby-Dooing around is done and they're forced to grow up. This Body isn't as thoughtful or as clever. It doesn't have the same kind of depths (at least not until the last handful of pages), but it covers the balance with more laughs and more one-liners and a more precise, Deadpool-esque skewering of its genre tropes, often done by characters right in the middle of troping the hell out of things. And over the top of all of it is Cantero, narrating his own plot twists and ridiculousness — like when the kingpin's tween daughter (kinda) is told to hide in the backseat of a car during a shoot-out and asks, "How do you know the killer won't come for my father, then steal this car to escape and take me along?"

'This Body' basically just pinballs from gunfight to car chase to investigation to car chase to gunfight with a little bit of shopping and drinking and chess thrown in.

Zooey thinks about that for a second, then says, "Because now that you said it aloud, it's unlikely to happen." Which, within the gooey physical space of Book World and under the laws that operate there, is absolutely true.

This Body is a book that lives in the intersection between reality and pop-culture, but it does so with a kind of honesty because that's where its characters live. Likely where Cantero lives, too. It packs more references, asides, call-outs and side-eyes into a single paragraph than anything you've ever read. It can be tough to get into in the first few pages (which bop back and forth between straight prose, flash-backery and a stage-play layout), but once you settle into the rat-a-tat prattle of the dialog and the tinkling of shell casings hitting the floor, it's a ride, for sure. A.Z. is a kick, conflicted and twitchy. Everyone else is a cardboard cut-out, either aware of and embracing their wood-pulp hearts or fighting hard against them. And the whole thing, page-by-page, reads like it's been sprayed with Teflon — a non-stick book for our non-stick age — so that when you finally lay it down as the last of the smoke clears, you're left jittery and unsettled, wondering what, exactly, just happened — and jonesing for a little bit more.

Jason Sheehan knows stuff about food, video games, books andStarblazers. He is currently the restaurant critic at magazine, but when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about giant robots and ray guns. Tales From the Radiation Ageis his latest book.

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