by Alex Austin
Once your life is diluted to ones and zeroes on the End Man’s desk, it’s over. Or is it?
Afflicted with dromophobia, the fear of crossing streets, 26-year-old Raphael Lennon must live out his life within the four thoroughfares that border his Los Angeles neighborhood. Luckily, he found a fulfilling job within his space as an End Man at Norval Portals where Raphael is the best possum hunter in the company. He hunts the dead who live, people hiding under the guise of death. He doesn’t want to bring these “possums” to justice but to keep them out of his firm’s necrology database so their presence doesn’t crash the whole system.
When the company founder assigns Raphael a fresh case, he sets aside all other work to investigate Jason Klaes, a maverick physicist with boundary-pushing theories that may have attracted unwanted and sinister attention. Raphael soon discovers messages sent by Klaes after his supposed death—threats to people who have subsequently died. As he digs deeper, he receives his own message from Klaes, a baffling command to pursue the truth.
As he unravels the mystery, he unearths the secrets of his own phobia-plagued life and the inner workings of Norval, whose corporate ambitions include a nightmarish spin-off of its product. Raphael must stop them or he’ll never be free and neither will anyone else.
“Dromophobia is the fear of crossing streets. In an urban environment, this condition dictates that work and daily life take place in a carefully manipulated and close environment where no streets need to be navigated.
Fortunately, 26-year-old dromophobic Raphael Lennon has carved out just such a niche for his life. Unfortunately, this is about to change.
End Man is a study of not just fear, but in self-imposed prisons and attempts to hide from death. Ironically, Raphael’s job is to ferret out those hiders who “play possum” and fake their deaths. Death may be a good place to hide, for nefarious reasons. But it’s not a good place to conduct business.
Readers who pursue End Man will find its special blend of mystery and sci-fi create compelling scenarios and opportunities for higher-level thinking as moral and ethical quandaries mix with philosophical life inspections: “They’re dead, but not less valuable. That’s our business.”
Raphael may have carved out a life for himself, in control of his world, but as events force him out of his comfort zone, readers follow his progression into chaos: “Why is this happening, he thought to himself … Because of the limitations of his world (and his apartment was the center of his world), he knew its mechanisms well.”
If End Man were simply a story of dromophobia, this rare exploration would be enough of a draw to gain an audience. But its real value lies in the pursuit of Raphael’s expanding world and the dilemmas it introduces as his carefully organized existence undergoes a sea change.
Alex Austin is a master at building tension, psychological inquiry, and intrigue that tests his protagonist in unexpected ways.
The sci-fi elements introduce a futuristic setting with revised moral and ethical boundaries that offer particularly notable, compelling dilemmas throughout its action-packed scenes.
Austin takes the time to build character, setting, and personal and corporate thinking processes. This lends both a sense of realistic fatalism to the story and creates fine tension replete with unpredictable twists and turns.
The result is a tale of not just a mystery that engulfs the unwitting Raphael, but one that shifts from personal to corporate responsibility and values as events unfold.
Readers and libraries seeking exceptional sci-fi mystery settings and quandaries worthy of book club discussion will find all this and more in droves in a story packed with intrigue, growth, and a wry dash of humor for added impact.”
Diane C. Donovan, Senior Reviewer
Donovan’s Literary Services
About the Author: Alex Austin
Alex Austin is a Los Angeles-based journalist, novelist and playwright. His novel Nakamura Reality was published by The Permanent Press in 2016. Publishers Weekly gave the novel a starred review and called the writing, “powerful and moving.” His novel The Perfume Factory was a finalist for Writer’s Digest Independent Literary Novel of the Year, 2009, and was a Kirkus Recommended. Austin’s plays include The Amazing Brenda Strider, a Backstage West Critic’s Pick, winner of the Maddy Award for Playwriting and produced at several venues, including the CoHo Theatre, Portland. His play Mimosa was produced at Los Angeles Theatre Center, the featured play in Wordsmiths Playwrights Festival, presented by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department. Dupe was featured in Ten Grand Production’s Cold Cuts Series in New York City. His fiction has been published in numerous literary magazines, including Carte blanche, Black Clock, Beyond Baroque, District Lit, Midway Review, Foliate Oak and The Disconnect. He has written numerous nonfiction articles. Austin is a graduate of UCLA. He lives with his wife Eileen in West Hills, California. Retired from full-time teaching, he currently works as a substitute teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District.