J. Milligan’s hard-boiled Jack Fish spews its eponymous agent in training from the undersea world of Atlantis onto the coast of Coney Island to perform a madcap assassination in the “Topworld.” Fish’s maiden mission is to kill a rogue agent-turned-architect who plans to expose the truth about the lost continent. Fish, bumbling but ambitious, tracks down his man via Johnny Belmont, a lady-crazy former cop, and Chloe Mitosis, a sexy avant-garde performance artist. The novel has noir elements galore: the car chase, the stalker stakeout, the slam-o-rama fight, the curbside snatch into a dark Lincoln. The language snaps (“Fucking Illuminati eye-in-the-pyramid motherfuckers. Ain’t gonna outrun their equipment in no Econoleen. Gotta try the Battlestar Galactica moves”) and occasionally turns sharp (plastic grocery bags become “urban tumbleweed”, while the Lower East Side is “like a reef, with apartment buildings serving as crusty infrastructure”).
Jack Fish entertains with comic antics, but rarely dives deep. The most engaged writing appears when Milligan pays homage to the L.E.S. and Williamsburg. He churns up scenes of E-fueled slaves of New York playing semi-naked Twister in an empty pool, not to mention hatred of the G train. It’s an insider’s account from Milligan’s parapet in Brooklyn. Milligan, a former writer in Sesame Workshop’s interactive-media department, has constructed a Gotham that sometimes feels like a city inhabited by clever if cloying Muppets. The excessive sociological description and name-dropping have the whiff of a downwardly mobile Bret Easton Ellis, with Milligan devoting lengthy treatments to the delights of sushi and the making of egg creams. Funny and exhausting, Jack Fish is a breezy romp through downtown’s metrosexual underbelly.