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WesternSFA
Clean
by Alex Hughes
Roc,$7.99, 340pp
Release Date: September 4, 2012
The tagline for Clean is “A telepath is a terrible thing to waste,” which works on several levels, not least because the protagonist is a Level 8 telepath who lost his Guild status when his addiction to Satin brought him to the gutter. He’s spent a lot of time being wasted, and his talents have been going to waste too.

Now, as he barely hangs on to sobriety with help from his 12 Step sponsor, Swartz, Adam works on demand for the Atlanta police department, when his special talents are needed. It is crummy work for lousy pay and no respect, and for a telepath who experiences the thoughts and emotions of those around him, working around criminals, victims, and angry cops is like working in a sewer. Most of other cops make no effort to conceal their contempt for an addicted telepath – or their fear.

The presence of Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino is some sort of consolation, even if half the time Cherabino is so mad at Adam she’d like to eviscerate him with a blunt spoon. (Cherabino is the name of a ‘trouser role’ character – that is, a male character performed by a woman, often to imply a bit of gender ambiguity – from Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, who gets to sing one of the prettiest love songs ever composed. It’s a perfect name for a love interest, one-of-the-guys lady.)

A series of seemingly unrelated murders involves Adam, Cherabino, and the Guild itself in an ugly plot. Adam’s talents are crucial to solving the crimes, but they also put him at risk, and anyone near him is in the danger zone too.

This is a hard-luck urban noir story, full of the smells and sounds and anguish of addiction and crime, but there is also courage, nobility of spirit, and love, however thwarted.

It is fairly obvious that author Alex Hughes has XX chromosomes, despite the masculine abbreviation of Alexandra. Internal conflicts get much more air time than action does, and the protagonist overthinks everything in a way that is entirely animus-driven, in the Jungian sense. But a good story, well told, stands solidly on its own merits, and an ambiguous authorship suits the mood as well as the audience for this book. Let’s face it, most of us are well aware of our own masculinity within femininity, and visa versa, these days.

There is no mention made of an imminent sequel, but Clean has all the markers of a series debut. Let’s hope Adam, Cherabino, and the other survivors show up again soon. ~~ Chris R. Paige, Tucson , AZ.

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