Cover image for Semiautomatic : a novel
Semiautomatic : a novel
Reuland, Rob, 1963-
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [2004]

Physical Description:
242 pages ; 25 cm
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Robert Reuland's hard-edged yet elegant writing has drawn comparisonsto that of writers as far-flung as Chandler, Hemingway, and T. S. Eliot, but his voice is all his own. With Semiautomatic, Reuland delivers another fist-in-the-gut novel set inside the courtroom and on the darkened street corners of Brooklyn. Drawing on his experience as a homicide prosecutor, Reuland captures lives on the edge, men and women working and dying in a very real world that most of us never see, although it exists right under our noses. Semiautomatic follows Reuland's acclaimed debut, Hollowpoint, which introduced antihero Andrew Giobberti, a prosecutor reckoning with his daughter's accidental death while investigating a murder case that hits far too close to home. Now, eighteen months later, we find Gio gun-shy, living a rote existence, working in the sleepily academic Appeals Bureau. Then an opportunity comes for personal and professional rebirth: a murder trial. Gio vows to play this one by the book, yet the difficulty of doing that quickly becomes apparent. He is paired with prosecutor Laurel Ashfield, and the two establish an instant mutual dislike. A key witness disappears. The case detective is conspicuously unavailable. The district attorney himself seems to have far more interest in the trial than the mundane facts would seem to merit. And Gio learns that it was not by chance that he was picked for this case. Gio is swept into the seamy, seedy world of Brooklyn politics and prosecution, caught between decent lives and indecent corruption, between streets that are already too dangerous and a killer who will most certainly kill again. And in a world where right and wrong depend on everything from where you were born to where you were last standing, making the wrong choice may cost one man his career, or another man his life. From the Hardcover edition.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Brooklyn prosecutor Andrew Giobberti has been exiled to the Appeals Bureau for so long he's almost forgotten that putting away murderers is in his DNA. Almost. When he's pulled out of purgatory to rescue a politically sensitive homicide trial prepped by a green, painfully ethical prosecutor, Giobberti's soon ready for his courtroom comeback. But even as he shows his unwilling partner the ropes they'll use to encircle the defendant's neck, disturbing holes start appearing in the case. Will Giobberti bend the truth to serve justice, or do the right thing for the wrong outcome? Reuland, himself a veteran of the Brooklyn DA's Homicide Bureau, vividly brings to life this gritty morality tale and draws us deep inside the protagonist's troubled psyche. Unfortunately, overheated dialogue and confrontations undermine Giobberti's crackling ruminations until it sometimes feels as though the narrative channels are flipping between a soap opera and an excellent Law & Order0 episode. Luckily, the compelling force of Giobberti's tortured personality and Reuland's consistently delightful turns of phrase save this follow-up to Hollowpoint 0 (2001) from sinking too deeply into melodrama. --Frank Sennett Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Giobberti makes a return appearance in this second novel by Reuland (Hollowpoint), in which a ghetto murder is spun into a complex, shadowy courtroom showdown. As the novel begins, Giobberti is living out a deadeningly quiet bureaucratic exile in the sleepy appeals office of the Brooklyn DA. His career hit a brick wall after the events of the earlier novel: the death of his daughter, his subsequent estrangement from his wife and the personal collapse that led to a botched homicide prosecution. So Gio is confused, suspicious and guardedly grateful when a former underling appears in his office and makes him an offer he can't refuse: Giobberti can return to the Homicide office if he'll prosecute the accused murderer of a Brooklyn bodega owner. After that, moral and narrative ambiguity take over as Giobberti tries to sort out why the DA wants him on this case. He knows something's wrong, but no one's revealing anything, not even Laurel Ashfield, the straitlaced, by-the-book junior DA who had the case before it was dropped in Giobberti's lap. Reuland avoids by-the-numbers storytelling and die-cut morality, tracing a tortuous path through the Brooklyn underworld and tossing off impolitic remarks with a studied carelessness ("Brooklyn killers do not deserve long stories. Brooklyn killers have no imagination. Brooklyn killers are the dumbest killers in the world"). There's a redemption story thinly camouflaged under the procedural tangle, giving this noirish legal thriller grace and gravitas. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter 1 Here is Phil Bloch standing in my office doorway. He does not sit after panting up the five stories from his own office. He stands heavily breathing and does not sit in the sorry solitary armchair that bleeds beige crumbs of foam through a gash in its orange vinyl onto the gray-green linoleum before the metal desk where I sit watching him shift anxiously from one foot to the other. I put down my sandwich. Silence behind him in the desolate noontime hallway. He shifts from foot to foot. For ten minutes, ten awkward minutes of throat clearing and Knicks bullshit and great yawning silences I do not fill--ten minutes that follow his unexpected, unwanted appearance here--ten minutes more than we have spent face-to-face since all the jazz that got me sent upstairs in the first place--I sit watching him as my brisket-and-gravy sandwich grows cold. The brown gravy congeals on the waxed paper into an oil slick, and a rainbow glints dully on it, and I watch him and wonder why now? Why, after more than a year, and with the elevator broken, did Bloch come to see me? He wants something. To apologize, maybe. Something. Outside the Municipal Building, on the other side of my ninth-floor window, the snow falls, giving Bloch another topic, another excuse to avoid saying what he came here to say. "Look at it come down!" et cetera. I shift in my chair; I do not want to hear his opinion on the snow. Walking through it this morning, the first snowfall since the Brooklyn sky closed gray in November, I fell reluctantly under its spell. I put my hands in my pockets and it came down. Just yesterday pale denuded Christmas trees alongside the road in my neighborhood were the only relief from the hard brown and gray of everything else. So I ask him what's on his mind, and from the sound of my own voice I know that I am impatient, that the novelty of Phil Bloch in my doorway has worn off in those ten minutes. When I speak, Bloch faces me, turning his gaze away from the window as if he had forgotten I was here, forgotten he was here, and he is startled and does not say anything at all. He blinks once or twice. I ask him again for his own good, thinking that if I do not keep on him, he may lose his nerve and wander off, spinning away like a comet on an elliptical trajectory, not to return for another year or two. Yet Bloch still wavers, tongue-tied. At least now he comes fully into my office. He stands with the vinyl armchair between us. For safety, I suppose--as if I might decide at any moment to come around it and punch his face in for him, as a thank-you for putting me here. He reaches forward and takes a snow globe from my desk. He holds it in his mittlike left hand, and still he says nothing. He shakes it, and fluorescent snow falls on pink palm fronds against an azure sky, the lurid hue of a Miami nightmare. A souvenir not of Florida but of another life, flotsam from a memory of a wife, a child, a family trip. Another desktop memento, along with the school portrait of Opal, age five, near some drawings she made when she was alive. "It snow in Florida?" Bloch finally asks with blank curiosity. "What?" "You got this with the snow on the palm trees in there," he says. "I don't think you get snow down there. In Miami, I don't think." "Phil." "It's not--right--" "Phil," I start again. And Bloch, mistaking my tone for something more benign, at long last sits in the upholstered armchair, which gives off a plaintive breath beneath him. Sitting there with the snow globe in his hand, he makes a sweeping motion, as if to dispel the poisonous miasma he imagines in the air between us. Truth is, I have not spent a lot of time missing him, much less sticking pointed pins into a voodoo Phil. I have hardly thought about him at all since that day two Septembers ago when I sat in his office, trying hard not to laugh as he assumed a fatherly demeanor with me, or tried to, and went on about how he was doing me a favor if I would just think about it, goddammit. I knew it was not his idea, but I let him pretend; I let him tell me what I needed. "What you need," Bloch told me then, "is to--just think about it, goddammit!--is to get some air. Just air yourself out!" He was my doctor, writing me a prescription to this place: the Appeals Bureau. Appeals! This ninth-floor backwater bureau where you never see a jury, never see a defendant, never see a judge. Where no one shouts, no one sweats. Where the men wear glasses and women long skirts, their nyloned thighs hissing as they pace the quiet library stacks. Here you can shut your door and hunch over your computer and type and smoke 'em if you got 'em and leave at five on the nose without seeing anybody all day. Or, more important, without letting a killer go free. Which is how you got here. For air. I have not thought about Bloch since then, except in those comic moments when he saw me in a hallway or a nearby street and would have sold his immortal soul to disappear. Mostly what I have seen of Phil these past eighteen months has been his pantomime eye-widening at fifty yards, his double takes, his flinging of himself bodily into women's shoe stores, or broom closets, or offices of people he does not even know--so afraid he was that I might walk over and say boo. At those moments Bloch seemed more afraid of a routine hallway encounter than he ever had of losing his office to me. Before I decamped here, safely out of Bloch's way in Appeals, that nightmare image must have featured regularly in his Cranford, New Jersey, bedroom: Andrew Giobberti returning to reclaim his once and future office in the Homicide Bureau, carrying a cardboard box containing law books, a stapler, coffee-stained papers, a snow globe, photographs, drawings, and a pencil holder made from a soup can and construction paper. Bloch's abiding fear--that I would stencil my unpronounceable name on his frosted-glass door and would again be his boss and not he mine, like it was before everything changed--was nothing next to the terror of a simple morning hullo. So I understand what it means for Bloch to have come up here. That is why I remain patient. That is how I know he wants something, and that it was not his idea to walk up five flights to see me. And yet Phil Bloch, his face white with discomfort, his skin dewy from the steam radiator knocking away in the corner, is so evidently pained when he tells me, "I'm not going to apologize," that I take it as an apology anyway. But I cannot resist asking, "Apologize for what, Phil?" "You know . . . that," he says, again sweeping his hand to indicate my office, Appeals, and what landed me here. "This." "I thought I needed to air out," I say, sounding more sarcastic than I intend. "Look. You didn't hear this from me," Bloch says, taking a backward glance at the silent hallway, a line of closed doors with all the dormitory appeal of a Manhattan apartment building. As he turns, an even roll of white fat appears over his collar. He shrugs, then without standing scoots his chair closer to me. In the process more beige crumbs of foam silently fall. "Luther was pushing to can you then and there," he says in a throaty whisper. "What?" I ask, although I can hear him fine. He frowns, shifts his weight, and stands in a sudden jerk. He walks to the doorway and bends into the hall. I see his khaki behind, wide and flat, the material creased into the deep, patterned furrows of a mountain range seen from high altitude. He shuts the door. "Luther wanted to fire you," he says in his natural register and sits again. "After that business with the, um--the mother--" "Nicole Carbon." "--who, ah, killed her own kid." "After I let her go, you mean." "Yeah," Bloch says after a moment passes, during which he does not take his eyes off me. "After--after, you know. What happened." "After what happened?" I repeat, quoting him with mild incredulity. He does not say anything else. Nicole Carbon means something different to him. For him, she is something to be forgotten or ignored. If he ever understood, he never let on. For him, for all of them, Nicole Carbon was a brief embarrassment, a page-three headline quickly forgotten. For me, though, Nicole Carbon is not so much the reason I was sent upstairs as the reason I have stayed. "I let her go, Phil." "Well," he says, ignoring me now as well as Nicole Carbon. "He wanted you gone anyway. Luther did." "He should have fired me." "But I said, you know, 'Let him--' " "Air out?" I say, frowning seriously at Bloch. I frown so that I do not grin stupidly as I say it. He nods. He doesn't get me and instead mirrors my expression. We are both sitting here frowning at each other and nodding in agreement with ourselves. "Yeah," he says. "Get some air is what I said you needed." I nod some more, understanding. Whatever else he came here to say, Bloch wanted me to know he put in the good word with the D.A. after everything went to hell. Saved my job, maybe, or so he lets himself think. Like flowers after the fight, that is what he carried up five flights to lay across my desk. Who knows what he said to Fister? Not much, if I know Bloch, and certainly nothing that would have affected how Fister handled me after I gave Nicole Carbon a pass. Fister and I have our own history, but clearly Bloch nourishes the belief that I still have a job because of him. I am abruptly glad I did not smile when he told me. I will let him keep that. "You want to know what Fister said?" he asks. "What he said about you, I mean?" "No." "All right." Bloch frowns abjectly. His loose face, like a child's, betrays every emotion. He had, on the spur of that fine moment, very nearly told me something we both would have regretted--something the D.A. let drop within Bloch's earshot, an offhand compliment that meant more to Bloch than it would have meant to me. I shut Bloch up because he would have regretted telling me the second after he did, and I would have regretted his regret. Besides, I do not care what Fister thinks of me. I know, and I know what it is worth. I am a coin in his pocket, tarnished, one of many. He will spend me when he needs to. "Well--he likes you," Bloch says. Excerpted from Semiautomatic: A Novel by Robert Reuland All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.