Book Review: False Negative by Joseph Koenig


The latest offering from Titan Books on their Hard Case Crime label is author Joseph Koenig’s first book in two decades. His first book, Floater was well recieved and even won him an award for best first novel. His last novel, Brides of Blood was published in 1993, a gap of nearly 20 years, but thankfully, he is back with his latest book, False Negative, which follows the exploits of down-and-out newspaper writer Adam Jordan as he investigates the murder of a beauty queen in his hometown of Atlantic City, New Jersey circa the 1950’s.

With HBO‘s Boardwalk Empire showing audiences the seedy underbelly that led to the rise of America’s number two gambling mecca, Koenig takes us back to that place to show a different side of the city, one with less shine and more grit.  Instead of focusing on the power players of the city, False Negative follows Adam Jordan on a strange day in his career.  When he is too spent to cover a routine speech by a congressman, he writes up the story from a mysterious source, only to learn the next day that the congressman died and never made any speech.  Upon being fired, Jordan finds work writing for the infamous Real Detective magazine, where the stories are simple and formulaic, and the editor is stranger than any of the people Jordan encounters in the “square” world of newspaper writing.

This leads him on a misadventure as he follows a labyrinth plot to discover the killer, who may have a compulsion to repeat the kill over and over.  As he moves through the shadows of Atlantic City, he discovers that not everyone is who they say they are, and he’s better at the things he doesn’t like to do than the things he thought he was meant to do.

I will interview author Joseph Koenig in the coming weeks about his absence from the publishing scene, but for now, all that matters is the fact that he has written a taught noir thriller set in the newly rediscovered seedy world of Atlantic City.  False Negative is a refreshing take on the old tropes of Real Detective serial pulp magazines, and while there might not be a ton of surprises as far as the plot goes, it’s a fun ride through a world we don’t read about often enough anymore.

The dialogue is whip-smart and edgy enough to make fans of Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins smirk, and without the knowledge that this is a recently written book, many would believe it was written 60 years ago.  Koenig nails the period and the style with ease, making fans hope that we won’t have to wait another 20 years for another novel from this talented writer.  Stay tuned for my interview with Koenig, and more great releases from Hard Case Crime.



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