No question about it, my summer reading lists have always included crime fiction. But with this particular entry in the genre, there was another pull. Its author, Richie Narvaez, was actually my professor not too long ago. And upon finishing, I found his debut novel acted as an almost additional lesson from the Crime Fiction course he taught.

In Hipster Death Rattle, gentrification and a sweltering heat wave is already making life difficult for the residents of NYC. Throw in a machete-wielding slasher and things go from bad to worse. Enter our sleuth, Tony “Chino” Moran, a Puerto Rican, down-on-his-luck reporter barely getting by. His idea of a day well spent is playing pétanque in the park, drinking cheap alcohol to save money, and sure…maybe finishing work to get that next pay check. He most certainly doesn’t wish to be entangled in a mystery but that’s the funny thing about life, it rarely listens to your objections. Surrounding him is a cast of characters as colorful as NYC is wide. And what elevates them all, is when a chapter switches to their POV. It allows them room to breathe, to become authentic.

If the machete attacks give you pause, know this, they never become gratuitous. But there’s an additional mystery to grasp onto, one involving a missing old lady. No one seems to care as it doesn’t make a good tabloid headline. But when Tony gets caught up in the cold case, the intrigue sticks.

With each turn of the page, it became apparent to me that Richie Narvaez practiced what he preached. As my professor for a Crime Fiction course, he emphasized the importance of diversity. It should come as no surprise to anyone that there wasn’t much of it to be found in the classic mysteries of literature’s past. If there happened to be diverse characters, no doubt they were relegated to a stereotype or a villain. Sometimes both. Narvaez never attempted to shy away from that past in my class. Instead, he emphasized that the same old didn’t have to stick. Times change.

Hipster Death Rattle isn’t just about surviving a machete-wielding slasher. After all, survival has many forms. Sometimes it’s how hard you hold on to your self-identity, your culture, your home, from those who don’t wish to understand what they’re taking away from you in the first place.

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