Shovel Ready: read an exclusive extract

July 3, 2014, Article by Tom in Books

SHOVEL READY is the savagely compulsive debut from New York Times Magazine culture editor Adam Sternbergh and is out NOW in paperback. Here’s a little bit more about this awesome read…

Spademan used to be a garbage man. That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before his wife was killed, before New York became a burnt-out shell. Now the wealthy spend their days tapped into virtual reality; the rest have to fend for themselves in the streets. Now there’s nothing but garbage.

So he became a hit man.  He doesn’t ask questions, he works quickly, and he’s handy with a box-cutter.

When he’s hired to kill the daughter of a high-profile evangelist, Spademan’s life is upended. He will have to navigate two worlds – both the slick fantasy and the wasteland reality – to finish the job, clear his conscience, and make sure he’s not the one who winds up in the ground.

Intrigued? Well then sink your teeth into the first chapter of SHOVEL READY:


My name is Spademan. I’m a garbageman.

—this fucker.
I don’t care.
Don’t you want—
Just a name.
I have his address.
See this fucker—
I said don’t.
The less I know, etcetera.
How much?
What I said. To the account I mentioned.
And how will I—
You won’t hear from me again.
But how do I—
The dead guy. That’s how.

I don’t want to know your reasons. If he owes you or he beat you or she swindled you or he got the promotion you wanted or you want to fuck his wife or she fucked your man or you bumped into each other on the subway and he didn’t say sorry. I don’t care. I’m not your Father Confessor.
Think of me more like a bullet.
Just point.

—best friends. At least that’s what I thought. Then it turns out she’s fucking him.
Please, ma’am. I will disconnect. And this number doesn’t work twice.
Wait. Is this safe?
Which part?
Aren’t they listening?
Of course.
Doesn’t matter.
Why not?
Picture America.
Now picture all the phone calls in all the cities in America.
Now picture all the people in all the world who are calling each other right now trying to plot ways to blow America up.
So who the fuck do you think is going to care about you and your former best friend?
I see. Will you tell her—
Will you tell her when you see her that it was me who sent you. It was me.
I’m not FedEx. I don’t deliver messages. Understand?
Good. Now the name. Just the name.

I kill men. I kill women because I don’t discriminate. I don’t kill children because that’s a different kind of psycho.

I do it for money. Sometimes for other forms of payment. But always for the same reason. Because someone asked me to.

And that’s it.

A reporter buddy once told me that in newspapers, when you leave out some important piece of information at the be­ginning of a story, they call it burying the lede.

So I just want to make sure I don’t bury the lede.

Though it wouldn’t be the first thing I’ve buried.

It might sound hard but it’s all too easy now. This isn’t the same city anymore. Half-asleep and half-emptied-out, espe­cially this time of morning. Light up over the Hudson. The cobblestones. At least I have it mostly to myself.

These buildings used to be warehouses. Now they’re cas­tles. Tribeca, a made‑up name for a made‑up kingdom. Full of sleeping princes and princesses, holed up on the high­est floors. Arms full of tubes. Heads full of who knows. And they’re not about to come down here, not at this hour, on the streets, with the carcasses, with the last of the hoi polloi.

Yes, I know the word hoi polloi. Read it on a cereal box.

I never liked Manhattan, even back when everyone still liked it, when people still flocked from all over the world to visit and smile and snap photos. But I do like the look of Tribeca. Old industrial neighborhood, a remnant from when this city used to actually make things. So I come across the river in the early morning to walk around here before dawn. Last quiet moment before people wake up. Those who still bother waking up.

Used to be you’d see men with dogs. This was the hour for that. But there are no dogs anymore, of course, not in this city, and even if you had one, you’d never walk it, not in public, because it would be worth a million dollars and you’d be gutted once you got around the corner and out of sight of your trusty doorman and your own front door.

I did see a man once walking a million-dollar dog. On a treadmill, in a lobby, behind bullet-proof glass.

Feed-bag delivery boy on a scooter zips past me, up Frank­lin, tires bouncing over the cobblestones. Engine whines like he’s driving a rider-mower, killing the morning quiet. Cooler on the scooter carries someone’s liquid breakfast. Lunch and dinner too, in IV bags.

Now it’s just nurses and doormen and feed-bag deliv­ery boys out at this hour. Tireless members of the service economy.
Like me.
Phone rings.

—and how old is she?
You sure about that?
Does it matter?
Yes. Quite a bit.
Well, she’s eighteen.
Got a name?
Grace Chastity Harrow. But she goes by a new name now. Persephone. That’s what her friends call her, so I hear. If she has any friends.
Where is she?
New York by now. I assume.
That’s not much to go on.
She’s a dirty slut junkie—
Calm down or I hang up.
So you’re just a hunting dog? Is that it?
Something like that.
Just a bloodhound in a world of foxes?
Look, you need a therapist, that’s a different number.
She’s somewhere in New York, so far as I know. She ran away.
I have to ask. Any relation?
I thought this was no questions.
This matters.
To whom?
To me.
No, I meant any relation to whom?
T. K. Harrow. The evangelist.
Now why should that matter?
Famous people draw attention. It’s a different business. Different rates.
As I said, I’ll pay double. Half now, half later.
All now, and as I said, I need to know.
Yes. She betrayed his—
I don’t care.
But you’ll do it?
A fake name in a big city. Not exactly a treasure map. More like a mile of beach and a plastic shovel.
She said she was headed to New York. To the camps. They call her Persephone. That’s a start, right?
I guess we’ll find out.
May I ask you another question?
Go ahead.
You can kill a girl, just like that?
Yes I can.
Before you transfer that money, you better make sure you ask yourself the same thing.

I hang up and write a single word on a scrap of paper.
Pocket it.

Then take the SIM card out of the phone, snap it, and drop the phone down a sewer grate, hidden beneath the cobble­stone curb.

No motives, no details, no backstory. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I have a number and if you’ve found it, I know you’re serious. If you match my price, even more so. Once the money arrives, it starts. Then it ends.

Waste disposal. Like I said.
It’s an old joke, but I like it.
Truth is, I never spend the money.


SHOVEL READY is out now in paperback. Here’s what the world have been saying about it…

Follow Adam on Twitter: @sternbergh