Man In the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell (Soho Press, Feb. 2013)-It’s the 39th birthday of the unnamed protagonist of Man In the Empty Suit and he spends it the at the same time and in the same place he has for 19 years: The Boltzmann Hotel in Manhattan on April 1, 2071. Crumbling and riddled with decay, The Boltzmann hosts a fairly large group of our traveler’s selves. There are the Elders, and the Youngsters, intermingled with more in-between versions of himself, including his 18 year old self, The Inventor. They drink, they watch time travel films, they gossip, they mingle. It’s always quite a party. However, there are a few rules that must be followed. For example, there must be no guests, Elders know best, the future must not be revealed, no one is younger than the Inventor. These are only a few of the rules, but they’re among the most important. This birthday, however, is the one where all the rules will be broken. When he arrives, he immediately senses things are a bit off, and when a woman named Lily walks in, he’s stumped. There have never been outside guests at the party, and the Selves strictly forbidden from bringing anyone in. When he finds the body of himself that’s come from no more than 6 months in the future, with a bullet wound, no less, things get out of hand, very quickly. He’ll need to find out the truth behind his murder, and also solve the mystery that is Lily, before it’s too late.
He then travels back to Manhattan before Lily’s death and meets the woman who is not yet Lily, but will be. She claims to be the daughter of a hoarder of sorts, of gadgets and memories, although the truth is much more complicated. Soon, he falls into a job hauling books into the subway for the book exchange, surrounded by the many parrots that have taken up residence in the hollowed out platform. In this, he finds a camaraderie that he’s never felt before in a life filled with people in different times and places, but which rarely included true friendship, or love. When he’s finally forced to confront the events leading up to his death, he’s a changed man, and he’ll realize that in a life of excess and freedom, he was never really free at all. In Man In the Empty Suit, Sean Ferrell had given us a futuristic whodunit of a most unusual sort. Set amongst a ruined 21st century New York, what at first glance seems to be a shadow filled, creepy warren of ragged buildings and even more ragged, hungry people soon coalesces into a place where the human spirit has risen above the unnamed catastrophe that has demolished the once vibrant city. The people in this story are much more complicated than they seem, even the different versions of our hero, and questions of fate, future, and the crushing loneliness of a life spent in constant time travel elevate this book above simply mystery. At first, I found myself getting confused and a bit lost among the intricacies of paradox inherent in a story like this. However, once I relaxed and stop analyzing, and just read the book, I quickly lost myself in this rather melancholy tale. Man In the Empty suit is a cerebral, noirish, and very unusual novel. It does require your full attention, but once I started it, it was a challenge for me to put down. This one made me think about it long after I was finished.