The Cleanup by Sean Doolittle – review

the cleanup sean doolittleMatt Worth became a cop for the right reasons; he’s a good guy and wants to help people. We are introduced to him as he is in the middle of a streak of bad luck. His wife has left him for a Homicide detective. After getting into a fight with the guy he is basically demoted to night duty guarding an all night supermarket. He really might be the only armed grocery bagger in the state. He finds that he has feelings for Gwen, the quiet check out girl who works most shifts with him. When she finds herself in a bad situation with her abusive boyfriend he leaps at the opportunity to help her. His airtight plan though wasn’t as sound as he thought and the situation quickly spins out of control.

There were quite a few moments in The Clean-up that hinged on the casual revealing of important information that under different circumstances should be inconsequential but here is so important that it changes everything. For example there is a moment where two characters are talking. The names that are being mentioned are of characters that we’ve already been introduced to and know to be criminals. There is a familiarity to the conversation so that we know that the characters not only know the criminal but also work for him in some capacity. Just when we’ve subconsciously absorbed this information Doolittle subverts his world and our reading experience by casually revealing that the two men are actually cops. Suddenly the whole scope of the previous conversation and what we know about the characters, if not the whole book, changes. This is just one example of Doolittle‘s masterful use of the casual reveal, but there are others.

Doolittle displays a master’s hand at manipulating his large cast of characters not only though the story but in their interactions with each other. Spheres of relationships are complex in their interactions with each other. Theses characters and their relationships will paint for us a complex canvas that displays the entire range of emotions in the human experience. The Clean Up is filled with moments of quiet power. There is another scene that is worth taking a closer look at. Worth’s ex-wife, whom he obviously still has feelings for, has just come to his house to tell him that she is pregnant. She wanted to tell him directly before he found out through others, you see the man that she left Worth for is another police officer. In tones of quiet restraint that are loaded with subtext he congratulates her. Then she leaves. It’s at this point in the scene that we get to see the power of the third person narration. Worth’s house is being staked out by two men and they will see her leaving the house then sobbing in her car before driving off. We the reader, through the eyes of these two men, will bear quiet witness to a scene that we weren’t supposed to see. Nobody was supposed to see it and it feels like we are invading her privacy, we also feel dirty because of it. There is also extra weight of subdued menace as the two men decide to follow her instead of continuing to stake out the house.

When the odds are starting to stack against Worth he makes a decision that will catch the reader off guard. This decision will set the tone for the final part of the book. The ending is unpredictable and satisfying. Some loose threads are wrapped up while others are left unresolved. Its fitting that the final moments are given to Worth and his brother. Worth’s brother is faced with the possibility of reconciling with his wife over his involvement and all hinges on his answering one question honestly. Worth goes to see their father who has Alzheimer’s and lives in a nursing facility. While feeding him cranberries his father thinks that he is his dead brother and tells him to look out for Matty.

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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About Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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