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Book Review: "City of the Dead" by Herbert Lieberman

3.5/5 - a horror/murder-mystery that falls a little short...

By Annie KapurPublished 2 months ago 4 min read
From: Amazon

April again. Burgeoning spring. Tax time and the month of suicides. Gone now are February and March, seasons of drowned men, when the ice of the frozen rivers melt, yielding up the winter's harvest of junkies, itinerants, and prostitutes. Soon to come are July and August--the jack-knife months. Heat and homicide. Bullet holes, knife wounds, fatal garrotings, a grisly procession vomited out of the steamy ghettos of the inner city. Followed by September--early fall--season of wilting vegetation, self guilt, and inexplicable loss. Battered babies with the subdural hematomas and petechial hemorrahages. Then October--benign, quiescent; the oven pavements of the city cooling while death hangs back a little while, prostrate from all the carnage. Only to rush headlong into November and December. The holiday season. Thanksgiving and the Prince of Peace. Suicides come forth again...

- City of the Dead by Herbert Lieberman

I read this book because I really loved reading Crawlspace by the same author. My review of that book probably proves that I was going to move on to other aspects of his bibliography pretty soon. Then, this came up on my recommendations: because you liked 'Crawlspace' read 'City of the Dead'. And so I did. I cannot say that it was anything like Crawlspace and didn't nearly have the aptness of writing style. It didn't read like Crawlspace and I didn't feel like I was giving it the same time. I read Crawlspace in one day and to be honest, this book took about three because I found myself completely uninterested in the main character. He seemed a bit whiny, boring and stale. Apart from that though, there were some great descriptions in the book, proving that I will probably continue reading more of Herbert Lieberman's works.

We are introduced to the main character, Paul Konig. He is the chief medical examiner and has a very stern nature about himself that kind of reminds me of Gabriel Utterson - if Gabriel Utterson was the most stale character in all of existence. However, when some mutilated bodies start appearing in the river and it's Konig's job to identify them, he is put to a weird test in which he must confront the disappearance of his daughter and the death of his wife. As we witness all of this, we also get to see the wastes of space that work in the New York beaurocracy systems, keeping in line the narratives they feel like producing on the day.

From: All Data Lost Book Store

As much as I dislike the main character, the scenes that involve him are not all that boring. For example, there is a scene early on in the first half of the book where he is on the phone to his daughter - she doesn't speak but he does. He has this weird outpouring of grief and desperation to her as he knows she has fallen in with a gang of misfits and addicts. There's no response from the other side, but he keeps talking anyway, scared she will hang up. That was a brilliantly written scene and I actually really enjoyed it.

The best written parts of the book in my opinion were the ones that dealt with medical examination and identification. There's one part of the book where Konig is remembering missing people and it's actually a wonder he can recall so much - but then we have to remember it's part of his job. The job to identify the missing bodies is really quite intense and though the book feels much longer than Crawlspace, it does not quite feel as tense though it tries to.

All in all, I think this book was not Herbert Lieberman's best so far, some of the descriptions and scenes are pretty well written but overall, it is inconsistent and the reader frequently loses interest in the main character's personal problems. What we are left with is the kind of clichéd 'broken professional man' stereotype who has to 'soldier on regardless of his personal life'. Honestly, this can get tired after a while and though I think this book had good intentions to be something different, it didn't completely serve its purpose as a gripping murder mystery and was nowhere near the level of horrific I was expecting.


About the Creator

Annie Kapur

200K+ Reads on Vocal.

English Lecturer

🎓Literature & Writing (B.A)

🎓Film & Writing (M.A)

🎓Secondary English Education (PgDipEd) (QTS)

📍Birmingham, UK

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