Rivers of Gold describes an alternate reality of New York City. Restaurants and businesses are boarded and shuttered. Crime is rampant, black markets thrive. Drug dealers use taxis as a distribution network among the world of The Speaks, pop-up parties whose location changes nightly. NYPD uses taxis for undercover detectives desperately trying to rein in the chaos to keep the Euro dollars showing up. Neither network knows about the other. To survive, Renny a young fashion photographer must sell drugs at night. Detective Sixto Santiago is part of the undercover CAB force but his world goes boing when Everett More, a feral 42-year-old CIA operative with Dark Secret clearance, is assigned as his new partner. Rivers of Gold is a ride like no other. Climb inside…the meter’s running…Renny is soon in crosshairs of both his boss and Detective Sixto Santiago, who’s part of an experimental unit in the NYPD using undercover taxicabs to try to crack down on the drug trade keeping the prohibited party circuit afloat. But Santiago’s just been partnered with a strange new arrival to the team, Everett More, whom he soon realizes is anything but a cop. From the dank, dark garages of the city’s taxi trade to the glittering playpens of its richest and most powerful, Rivers of Gold is a ride like no other. Climb inside…the meter’s running…

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“The year: 2013. The place: New York City, in the midst of the worst economic depression the country has ever seen. The city is awash in crime, and Renny, a professional photographer, is doing his part by running a string of taxis that ferry drugs and other illegal items to various underground parties. Sixto Santiago, a New York cop, is part of a new task force dedicated to, if not bringing crime to its knees, at least keeping it from completely taking over the city (without tourist dollars, the city would collapse under the weight of its own debt). As near-future noir goes, this one’s pretty well done. The author paints an appropriately bleak picture of NYC three years down the road, and his two lead characters, the crook and the cop, are nicely drawn (Renny, even though he’s technically a bad guy, isn’t really a bad fella—he’s just trying to keep his head above water). Fans of gritty noir fiction, whether it be mystery or SF, should find this one very much to their liking.”
“Rivers of Gold is brilliant! Dunn is one of those true rarities among crime novelists: a natural storyteller with a breathtaking style and an unstoppable imagination. It’s The Wire, it’s James Ellroy, with a bit of Blade Runner thrown in.”
“Manhattan’s nocturnal identity has long been a blend of desire, greed, and illicit business activity, bound into a grid by the ferries of the streets: the taxicabs. Evoking today’s economic chaos and post-Guantanamo crisis of conscience, Rivers of Gold vividly imagines New York City’s nightlife the day after tomorrow.”
This dystopian tale follows drug dealers and cops through the ruined streets of New York in 2013, after the Second Great Depression has gutted the city. It’s told in a suitably rapid-fire, slangy style, but there’s serious research behind it, as evidenced in the lengthy acknowledgments.
A torrid, near-futuristic urban thriller guided by undercover detectives we know as New York City cabdrivers … This is a fascinating depiction of New York night crawlers and global crime.
Rivers of Gold is a mile-a-minute, kick-ass blast of tech-noir. A rush from start to finish.
Rivers of Gold breaks new ground. It’s a smashing debut.
New York is my favorite city. Once in a while a novel comes along that delivers New York to me in prose. Philip Roth did that with John Lindsay’s New York, Jay McInerney with Ed Koch’s. Adam Dunn has delivered me a recognizable New York that hasn’t happened yet and I hope to God never happens. Now that’s an achievement.


I’d describe Adam Dunn’s novel, Rivers of Gold, as Kaleidoscope-Noir.

Yes, I made that term up. But see if you agree.

New York City. 2013. Taxicab drug deals. Unemployment. Race riots. Female characters with initial-names, like ‘N.’ Section headings like ‘Teabagging Charybdis.’ Gangsta rap stars, such as MC Cancer. The Citywide Anticrime Bureau (CAB). The Speaks. Tom-Wolf-ish-onomatopoeia-lines like ‘Mah-na mah-na (do do do-do…)’

Quite the tour de force.

These are just a random sampling from the novel, and yet, by their very nature, the reader can almost sense how high the author is aiming his intentions. Other reviews have likened this first effort to McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, and Bret Easton Ellis’s Less than Zero. As if in homage, Dunn even opens the novel in a kind of temporary ‘we’ point of view.

And let’s be honest. You have to be a fairly sophisticated reader to let an author stretch you in so many directions. Mixed within this kaleidoscope of creativity are numerous characters. One thing’s for sure. I don’t think Dunn could create a two-dimensional character if his life depended on it. And, it’s extremely rare that a reader picks up a novel that can make that claim.

Obviously, Dunn knows this world. After reading Rivers of Gold, you’ll feel like you’ve been given a special tour of New York City, as it is, and, as it might be. To locate us firmly in the year 2013, Dunn does extrapolate, but the extrapolation seems realistic and believable. The author currently lives in New York City, and pages of author acknowledgements attest to the thorough research of his subjects at every level. He’s even got recommendations from authors like Jeffrey Deaver, who calls Rivers of Gold ‘brilliant.’

The plot of the novel turns around two main characters: Detective Sixto Santiago and Renolds Taylor (Renny). Both these characters sparkle with specifics traits, both good and bad. Fashion photographer turned street-tough Renny has a soft interior for his mother–who’s ‘in her personal twilight zone’–and his murdered friend Eyad. Santiago has a New-York-soft-spot for his family and his elderly Jewish friend, Hiram. The murder of Renny’s friend, Eyad, turns Santiago toward the possibility that a gigantic network of criminal activity is taking place in New York City cabs, bringing him closer to Renny, and Renny’s drug-boss, Reza. As this newest venue for corruption comes closer to being discovered, a thread of murders bring Santiago and Renny in closer contact, until an even larger boss, the Slav, is revealed within the hierarchy of crime.

One of the exciting features of this novel is its abundance of quotable phrases—again, a rare thing in modern novels. People have even caught on to this and referenced some of their favorites on a website. Not bad for a first novel. Try a few of these on for size:

The motor gargles to life

…the vinegary stink of medically slowed putrefaction. Age.

Afternoons are for acceleration.

…specimen of XY-chromosomal overload.

Laughter is the fulcrum on which the lever of seduction turns.

Can softness have a taste? Her lips are cumulus clouds wrapped in rose petals, but her jaw is firm, her tongue well-toned and animate.

Another feature I particularly enjoyed was Dunn’s creativity. The style is deceivingly conversational, complete with f-word reality and sexual bluntness. It’s as if the cliques of modern communication have been recognized, but then tinkered with, in a wonderfully metaphorical way. This type of creativity is available only in near-future or sci-fi novels, at its best, under the direction of skilled authors like William Gibson. It seems to give a brave, risk-taking author possibilities that are based on realism, yet allow him to add something imaginative to the mix. For example, imagine the boring first-draft of a line in a novel to be this: “Things were really chaotic. Law and order just couldn’t keep up.” Now, imagine that line rewritten, in a creative way, to become this: “The cheerleaders of chaos and entropy were thriving and diversifying, while the home team of law and order was in the ICU.” I think even the most insensitive reader would appreciate the creative extra-effort of a line like that. And this extra effort occurs regularly in Rivers of Gold.

As with any new endeavor, though, a creator leans toward balance or extremes. With a novel like Rivers of Gold, the positive of so many creative things going on, practically at the same time, in a kaleidoscopic frenzy, generates reader interest–for those who can keep up, anyway. For example, you’d have to know what ‘teabagging’ and ‘Charybdis’ are to get past the first section title alone. Therefore, by default, Dunn’s creative techniques limit the size of his audience, but the enthusiasm for his work by more sophisticated readers will more than likely compensate.

Each character in the novel, from the least to the greatest, is extensively fleshed out. This trait pulls most readers further into a novel, especially when the characters are as unique as Dunn’s. But ‘unique’ loses a little of its effectiveness when the specific details are brought in by the truck load, especially in a novel which is striving to show us so many unique illustrations of creative activity in motion at the same sitting, and Dunn occasionally errs in this way. For me, though, even these seeming negatives had their strengths; they simply reflected the choice of a modern author, struggling to finalize a unique vision. And, you would have to assume that Dunn made these choices intentionally, to qualify his audience and to showcase his abilities.

For a first novel, I would have to agree with Jeffrey Deaver.

It’s brilliant.

And, I would also add, uniquely kaleidoscopic.

This being a political season, we are endlessly assured that recovery is near, that prosperity is just around the corner, that happy days will soon be here again . . . if we cast our ballots correctly. Adam Dunn, the author of this often brilliant first novel, “Rivers of Gold,” is having none of it. He sets his story in Manhattan three years from now — 2013 — when the Great Recession has become the New Depression; famous restaurants, hotels, stores and theaters are shuttered; riots have broken out; a shantytown has sprung up in Central Park; and thousands of municipal employees, including police, have been laid off, sending the crime rate to new peaks.

But don’t despair, folks: The Palin-Limbaugh ticket has just taken over the White House.

Sorry, the devil made me write that last bit.)

Dunn’s guide to this grave new world is green-eyed, 118-pound, 25-year-old Reynolds (Renny) Taylor, who divides his time between high-fashion photography and high-end drug-dealing. Both pursuits carry him into a world of hip young things with money, and both help him maintain a frenzied sex life. The novel’s early sections suggest an updating of the urban decadence we’ve seen before in books like Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City” and Bret Easton Ellis’s “Less Than Zero.” Dunn’s young people frequent illegal clubs and slurp down drinks that you and I never heard of (“ginger-pear-basil-aspic martinis,” “truffle-oil infused Absolut 100 shots”). But there’s a new desperation here: “Life in the Big Apple in 2013 isn’t about pride or principles,” Renny tells us, “it’s about survival.”

Dunn finds a certain mad humor in Renny’s hectic life. The lad often speeds about the city in taxis and has developed rules for Taxi Sex, which are highly practical but mostly unrepeatable here. Renny actually gets sweet on a tawny beauty he calls N (he gives women letters, which is slightly more gentlemanly than numbers), who has “AETAS ANIMA” tattooed on an intimate portion of her anatomy. When N unwisely shows signs of possessiveness (she asks Renny how many women he’s had sex with that month), he has his answer ready: “I think that people need to collide, to bounce off each other a few times, in order to determine if they’re really a good fit for combining. If not, it’s best to Keep Moving.” A rule to live by, verily, but lest he alienate the delightful N, Renny gives her a gift that keeps on giving, a platinum-plated vibrator. Dunn’s sex scenes are a highlight of the book; they provide tasty glimpses of the bizarre, rather than boring descriptions of the same-old same-old.

All this is good fun, if you’re not uptight about sex, drugs and youthful decadence.

I could have happily gone on seeking vicarious thrills in Renny’s orgiastic lifestyle, but Dunn has something more ambitious in mind. He wants to show us that Renny is an unwitting bit player in a much larger drama, and to do that, he introduces four more characters, two cops and two criminals. One of the cops is Detective Sixto Santiago, part of a plainclothes unit that tries to keep Manhattan at least safe for tourists; he’s big, tough, cynical and honest. He’s also most unhappy about being partnered with a gun-crazy madman named More, a one-time Special Forces sniper in Afghanistan who’s been detailed by the Pentagon to the NYPD to seek out foreign influences in the New York drug trade.

Those influences do exist, in Reza, a Bulgarian immigrant turned taxi driver and drug kingpin who is Renny’s drug boss, and in The Slav, once a bloodthirsty Russian commander in Chechnya, now the leader of an international crime syndicate in New York. These are ruthless men. The Slav, we’re told, “looked like an early amphibian that had clawed its way out of the primordial sea, stood on dry land for the first time, and decided then and there that it all belonged to him.” Poor Renny is soon running for his life.

Dunn takes pains to develop these cops and criminals; indeed, I think he tells us more than we need to know about most of them. Still, there is some wildly inventive writing in this novel — “future noir” one early reader called it — and we do find ourselves worrying about whether the relatively decent Renny can survive in this jungle. Dunn is a talented writer, and “Rivers of Gold” will be talked about, deservedly.