BookBrowse Reviews Suburban Dicks by Fabian Nicieza

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Suburban Dicks

by Fabian Nicieza

Suburban Dicks by Fabian Nicieza X
Suburban Dicks by Fabian Nicieza
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2021, 400 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2022, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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Deadpool creator Fabian Nicieza commutes to the suburbs in this satirical mystery with an unforgettable detective team.

Readers beware: If you have no sense of humor and you live in suburban New Jersey—or, by extension, any largely white suburban enclave within commuting distance of a major metropolitan area—you'll probably find something, maybe more than one thing, to be offended by in Fabian Nicieza's Suburban Dicks. But if you do have a sense of humor or at least the willingness to acknowledge the foibles and shortcomings of any kind of insular environment, then Nicieza's funny, foul-mouthed mashup of detective fiction, satire and social commentary might be just what you're looking to read on your train ride into the city.

The story starts like any number of other crime novels—with a pair of cops securing the scene of an apparent murder. In this case, the crime scene is a suburban Jersey gas station, the dead body is that of the gas station attendant, Satkunananthan Sasmal, and the pair of cops are, as we soon learn, unusually inept. But they really don't know what's coming when a white suburban mom with about a half dozen kids (and another one on the way) peels into the gas station parking lot, supposedly in search of a bathroom for her potty-training preschooler. Before the cops know what's hit them, that toddler has peed all over the crime scene, and the mom—Andrea Stern—has given them a laundry list of all the ways in which they screwed up long before she and her offspring showed up in the family minivan.

Andrea, it turns out, is no ordinary passerby; she solved an incredibly complicated serial killer case while she was still in college. While once on the fast track to work her dream job as an FBI profiler, her plans were derailed when she wound up pregnant, married and living in New Jersey, where the biggest excitement of her day is now whether she'll get her spouse to his train on time. Andrea is bored, tired, hugely pregnant and pretty sure she doesn't love her husband anymore. So when she learns about Satku's death, all her old profiler senses are turned up to the max.

Andrea's interest is piqued even more when her old high school classmate Kenny Lee starts his own investigation into the murder. Kenny, who earned a Pulitzer Prize for journalism when he was only 22, has also come down in the world after a breach of journalistic ethics years later; he's now working for the local weekly paper and searching for the big break that will salvage his reputation and save his career. Kenny—and soon Andrea as well—grows convinced that the powers that be are covering something up, that their official story about city gangs and drug deals gone wrong masks, as Kenny puts it, "SUBURBAN SECRETS."

Kenny and Andrea's tense personal chemistry sets up their odd-couple professional relationship; both are supremely talented, both investigate the mystery using their own skills and methods, and they consistently question one another's motives and means. Most readers—especially if they have small children at home—will probably find themselves on Team Andrea once she starts coming up with more and more creative and outlandish solutions for childcare, including enlisting her children as junior investigators.

Suburban Dicks (and the title refers to old-timey slang for detectives, by the way) isn't just slapstick, however—the novel's plot and its characters' commentaries make serious points about the insularity of many so-called exclusive suburbs, and about the ugliness that can surface when a town's demographics begin to change. Andrea and Kenny's investigation digs up secrets that have been buried—literally—for decades, but that continue to carry repercussions for the town's residents, and that tie into current discussions about systemic racism and white supremacy.

Fabian Nicieza is probably best known as the creator of R-rated superhero Deadpool, so it shouldn't be too surprising that his social commentary is often couched in some pretty, er, colorful language. But ultimately, the novel has a big-hearted affection not only for its main characters but also its suburban setting, warts and all. Some readers may chafe at the continual references to Andrea's weight and body shape—she is heavily pregnant, after all—but those shortcomings of the writing aside, along with Kenny at her side, Andrea is one of the more winning and memorable amateur detectives in recent fiction. I don't know if Nicieza plans a sequel to Suburban Dicks, but if he does, I'll be the first on the train back to Plainsboro (see Beyond the Book) to see what happens next.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2021, and has been updated for the May 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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