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Review: Manifesto Destination by Alec Cizak

By Gabino Iglesias

There are three things an author can do with tropes: ignore them entirely, use them in weak, unoriginal ways, or grab them by the neck and abuse them in exciting ways until they feel new again. In Manifesto Destination, author Alec Cizak shows just how punchy and entertaining the last option can be when done right.

Elmore Johnson used to work for the Indianapolis Police Department, but he exposed some crooked cops and, instead of a medal, he got canned. Now he earns a living taking photos of people doing things they wouldn't want others to know about. His latest gig has him visiting a strip club and then taking pictures of the daughter of a wealthy CEO making cheap porn and taking a new drug. It all seems more or less straightforward, but things soon get complicated. The CEO's daughter turns up dead, a new drug is taking over the city, and everyone involved in the case has a secret agenda. Then Elmore learns about Manifesto Destination, a place that seems to somehow be tied to the folks running the porn business and the powerful and very addictive new drug. What ensues is a weird and very dark trip to the heart of the truth behind a conspiracy with many players and very personal reasons.

Manifesto Destination is a short, fast, engaging read, and the main reason for that is Elmore Leonard. The man has a fast mouth, a dark sense of humor, a love for Jim Beam, and a gun he's named after the love of his life. Sure, Elmore embodies the down-and-out boozy loser we've come to expect from archetypal noir, but Cizak makes him shine via superb one-liners, great comebacks, and by turning him into something akin to a hero in a world where the real monsters are the pharmaceutical companies and the cops.

The second thing Cizak gets right is pacing. This 150-page novel reads like an 80-page novella because the action comes quickly and there's no wasted space. Economy of language is important when writing action-packed stories, and here it helps the elements of noir take center stage because there's no padding to distract readers from the narrative.

Manifesto Destination is supposed to take place in 1998 Indianapolis, but the science fiction touches, which in the last third of the novel resemble a noir version of A Clockwork Orange, turn it into a story that could very well happen in a near future.

Cizak is a talented author whose unique voice elevates Manifesto Destination higher than most stories about alcoholic ex-cops in trouble with everyone. This novel is packed with a lot of drinking and smoking, broken characters with dark pasts that haunt them, a sexy nurse, a pile of bodies, a good dose of violence, a lot of stripping, and Elmore's own demons. If you crave something that's simultaneously classic and entirely new, give this one a shot.