Switchboard: Andrew Post
Reviewed By J.A. Sullivan
Every so often I come across a book that is so mind-blowing I need a long while to collect my thoughts for a review – Switchboard by Andrew Post is one of those books. “Awesome” sums it up, but that would hardly tell you why you should read this novel. The storyline, characters, and writing style were all so captivating, it was one of those rare gems you come across where you want to reread it as soon as you’re finished.
There’s an undercover narcotics detective, body modification surgeries, drug-induced visions, ghosts inhabiting papier-mâché people, and burner phones connected to another dimension. It’s a wild ride to say the least!
In Erie, Pennsylvania, narcotics detective Dwayne Spare is certain the dilapidated Dunsany Arms apartment building is at the centre of Gerald Metzger’s drug operation. Previous raids haven’t produced the evidence, so Dwayne goes undercover as a new tenant. But his cover doesn’t last long, and he’s injected with Metzger’s special drug. When Dwayne awakens there’s a voicemail on his phone from himself, from somewhere beyond.
I don’t want to say more about the plot for fear of spoiling it, but I will say it’s gripping and nearly impossible to put down.
Besides the detective, the novel also goes deep into the lives of other apartment tenants, all connected to Metzger’s business. Connie, a specialist in body modification, cuts pockets into people’s skin for drug smuggling and is responsible for removing dead tissue from junkies. Jack, a drug runner, turns to suicide as an ultimate escape, but soon finds Dunsany Arms won’t let go of his soul. Even the apartment building itself is like a character. A place as broken down as its residents, and a place where time figuratively and literally has no bearing.
And speaking of time, author Andrew Post brilliantly handled playing around with the concept of time throughout the book. Each character is battling an aspect of their past, and to heighten the desperation of the characters the story unfolds in a nonlinear way, causing old and new torments to collide in unexpected ways. A disrupted narrative can be dicey in novels, but Post uses the technique to add another layer to the story and it pays off in a big way. I never felt confused by the narrative because of Post’s attention to detail which beautifully tied everything together.
While I was reading Switchboard, I was awestruck by the strong images of even the smallest details, and it wasn’t until I was finished that I realised how each element circled back to impactful moments in each character’s life. Even the choice of Metzger’s drug being Krokodil was used to foreshadow the sufferings of the Dunsany Arms tenants as they unravelled and fell apart mentally as well as physically. If you’ve never heard of Krokodil and would like some nightmare fuel, Google images of its side effects. Just be warned, (KR: Take this warning very seriously, honestly, the images are not pleasant) it’s also known as the zombie drug due to the skin necrosis it causes. Andrew Post does an excellent job of describing all the gory details of the rotting drug users, and one of my favourite lines was “Screams from a jawless mouth sound very different.”
This novel is my top read of the year so far, that’s how much I loved it. Switchboard is a thrilling tragedy sure to haunt you long after you’ve closed the covers.
The Kendall Reviews Post Review Interview
J.A. Sullivan & Andrew Post
JAS: I loved the way the story was revealed through a nonlinear method. How did you tackle the chronology of the story when writing Switchboard? Did you start with a linear story and patch it together afterwards?
AP: I wrote Switchboard in the dead of winter and it was just one of those lucky, frenzied hot streaks of writing. A lot of which was based on nightmares I’d had. The entity the detective encounters was lifted wholesale from a nightmare. The first draft was the result of many weeks of sleepless nights and forgetting to eat, constantly taking notes because the ideas for it were always coming. I wrote it straight through, time jumps and all, and I just trusted that I’d know how it’d end up fitting together. I think a part of me had it all plotted out, unconsciously. I kept running into these little surprises where it seemed like I’d set myself up to connect this or that, but none of it was known or planned, things hitching together naturally and fluidly.
Harlan Ellison said something about that in Dreams with Sharp Teeth. How you’ll be writing along and suddenly put something down, some small random detail, and you have no idea why. But you also don’t delete it because, for whatever reason, it feels like it belongs there. But then later on in the project, it becomes clear to you why you added it—like some part of you already knew how it all fit together. To me, that’s the magic of writing. And while it’s happened to me before, and it’s has happened since, I never had it happen so often as it did when was writing Switchboard.
Looking back on working on it, a lot of it feels like it came from somewhere else—as weird as that might sound. Like it was always whole but had to come out in pieces—as gross as that might sound. But whatever its source, and however it got here, it’s hands down the book of which I’m the most proud. I could be told I could never publish anything again, but Switchboard made it out there, I could live with that.
JAS: Since the novel is set in your hometown of Erie, is the Dunsany Arms based on a real building?
AP: Not any specific building in Erie, but some places I have lived, and friends have lived. This is kind of unrelated, but I got an email recently from the Erie Country Public Library telling me that Switchboard would soon be in their collection of works by authors who are native to the area. And as thrilled as I was to hear something I wrote would be at the place where I checked out the first books I ever read, I cringed because the version of Erie that exists in Switchboard is not what that town is like anymore, at all. I deliberately leave it ambiguous when it’s set, though I suppose the presence of burner phones does force it to have to be at least the somewhat recent past. But the city of Erie in Switchboard is based on the Erie I remember as a kid, how it was in the ’80s, early ’90s, not at all how it is today. Like a lot of Rust Belt cities, Erie wasn’t doing so hot back then let’s say. In the bio I’ve been using the last few years, I describe it as Eraserhead but in color. Back then, that was not entirely inaccurate. Night and day now. Small businesses saved that town. So, this is my way of publicly apologizing for anyone who reads Switchboard and thinks, “I am never going there.” I’d encourage you to go. I promise that in real life, it’s actually quite lovely.
JAS: Much like Switchboard, many of your other books seem to blend several different genres. Do you set out to meld genres, or does it happen organically as you begin writing?
AP: I’d say it’s more organic. I don’t really set out to write in any one genre. That often ends up something I have to work out with an editor too, deciding which genre to file a book under—because everything I’ve written in the last handful of years could fit comfortably under both horror and mystery/crime. And it’s not that I don’t like fiction that’s squarely of its genre, I really do, I just like playing around with elements I enjoy and mixing and matching. Like Aftertaste is a detective story, except the main character’s a reanimated corpse. On Goodreads, Chop Shop has been tagged by readers as crime fiction as the same amount as it’s been tagged horror—which I love. And with Switchboard, I like gritty, paranoid thrillers set in dreary cities, but I also like cosmic horror and body horror a whole lot. So, I mashed them all together. How a drug like krokodil can ravage someone is pretty horrific and decidedly Cronenbergian and, sadly, it’s also very much real. And addiction, itself, can be terrible and heartbreaking—seeing someone deep in it can be like something out of The Exorcist. But depending on how someone accesses what they’re addicted to, and how deep it gets its claws in, they might end up having to be in a crime fiction scenario, at the mercy of predatory, opportunistic individuals.
While it’s not exactly a sunny place to spend your time, I think I feel the most comfortable in that crossroads between crime fiction and horror because I really enjoy exploring that perfect little area where they blur into each other. A lot of my favorite pieces of entertainment exist in that blur. Ask anyone whether Seven is a horror movie or a thriller. Same with True Detective. Now, this next one isn’t exactly a good movie, but in the film The Iceman there’s a part where Michael Shannon and Chris Evans (in a really bad wig) are cutting up the dead bodies of the people they’ve been sent by the mafia to kill. And the room where they keep the corpses is just packed—they’re arguing about having run out of room for places to store them, like they bought too much yogurt or something. I remember watching that and thinking how Shannon’s character—based on a real guy, scarily enough—is basically a slightly more talkative Jason Voorhees, except he gets paid to do what he does. Thing is, he doesn’t do it begrudgingly. Might never come out and say he likes killing people, but how capable he is shows that murder is not just a trade he’s taken up, it’s an inborn passion. And while The Iceman, as a film, is firmly in the thriller genre, his character exists in the horror/crime blur. And for that one quick scene with the corpse storehouse, well, it went full-on horror. Another example could be the bathroom scene in Scarface, the bit with the chainsaw. Toes that line. Pretty much everything about Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. Horror and crime are neighbors. I like to think I rent the apartment between them, where I can put my ear to either wall and takes notes.
JAS: Which authors inspire you?
AP: Jim Thompson I like a whole lot. He’s probably right up there with from whom I take the most inspiration alongside Will Christopher Baer, Elmore Leonard, and George V. Higgins. Those are the major ones. I still read every book Anne Rice publishes. I know the horror community likes to take their jabs at Anne, but if it hadn’t been for her, I probably wouldn’t be a writer. I mainlined the work of Poppy Z. Brite all through high school, so there’s another big inspiration. Clive Barker, naturally. Reading his stuff when first entertaining the idea of maybe trying my hand at writing seriously, it was like, “Oh, you can go that far with it?” But he also gets the emotional beats so right too. Coldheart Canyon is the only horror novel that made me cry. Then, about as far as you can get from genre fiction, I also really like the tear-your-own-chest-open approach to writing that David Foster Wallace took, namely with The Pale King. Which was a big inspiration directly on Switchboard. There’s a lot of my personal stuff in there—like, a lot. Essentially, every time a character tells another character a story, most of that is either something I experienced myself or someone close to me experienced. Which I’ve never been that honest before. So, just getting the guts up to put myself out there like that came from reading Wallace—take your autobiography, warts and all, and stick it between your characters’ quotation marks.
JAS: What started you down the path of becoming an author?
AP: I’m sure I’m not different from a lot of writers in how I collected ideas for what I thought I wanted to pursue as a career—when really I just thought those jobs were interesting and wanted to amass enough knowledge about them to create believable characters who do those things. I read a lot as a kid. I feel lucky to have been born at a time when boredom was still something a young person could experience, heaven forbid. Because that led to me making up my own stories and trying to emulate Barker and Rice, filling notebooks that should’ve had my math homework in them. I’d write these two-page stories and share them with my friends, try to spook them with stories about haunted houses and zombie apocalypses. I think having a lot of friends who read helped a lot. We’d swap books and I ended up reading pretty broadly because all of our tastes were so varied. Even after (mostly) growing up and getting married, I was always working on something. I submitted around, just to see if anybody thought my stuff was worth a damn. My first published story was about a crime scene photographer who shows up to an apartment where an old lady died and got eaten by her cats. So, I guess you could say I’ve stayed true to that initial go, vibe-wise.
JAS: If you could choose one of your written works to be adapted to screen, which would it be? And who would you want to direct it?
AP: I think it’d have to be Chop Shop. I mean, I’m probably a bit biased, but I’d go see a movie like that. I think with it being so dialog-driven and briskly paced and littered with pops of violence and pitch-black humor, it could be a good time as a movie. For the director, Nicolas Winding Refn would be my top pick. His adaptation of James Sallis’ Drive, while tonally different from the book, still really got the heart of it right I feel. And if he were to direct Chop Shop, the violence thing Refn certainly has down. But he can bring out these moments of oddball humor sometimes too, like all the zany stuff that happens at the police station in Too Old to Die Young—Refn’s criminally overlooked series on Amazon Prime. His stuff is just so transfixing. His use of color and who he casts and how he tells a story—and absolutely perfect needle drops.
JAS: You have another book called Mondo Crimson set to come out in November. What can you tell us about it?
AP: Mondo Crimson is my take on vampires. These are not in any way supernatural and while they do drink human blood, it’s only after torturing someone so it’s loaded with adrenalin. Think From Dusk Till Dawn and how it’s kind of a secret vampire story—even though I’m giving it away here—because the blood-drinkers in Mondo Crimson don’t show up until halfway through. Before that, it’s a pretty straightforward crime thriller set in the aftermath of a worldwide economic collapse. So, now basically, though it was written months before Covid hit. And even with how the publisher is presenting the book it’s a backdoor vampire story. There’s a lady with blood running down her chin on the cover, yes, but the synopsis says nothing about blood-drinking—only a car thief who may have stolen the wheels of a hitwoman by accident, or was it a set up to make them kill each other? Turns out, they share a boss, a man who has developed a taste for adrenaline-laced blood (street name mondo crimson) and is killing off everyone who works for him to wring them out and get his next batch.
Mondo Crimson is due to be my longest book to date, but it also has the highest body count. I kind of let myself go a little nuts writing this one, honestly. Closer in tone to Chop Shop than Switchboard, it features a cast of characters most of whom are completely out of their minds—or end up so by the end. One, Merritt Plains, is probably the vilest human being I’ve ever come up with—to the point it sometimes made me physically ill writing his scenes. Like something from Shane Black, Mondo Crimson is set at Christmastime. The Porsche Spyder that James Dean died in is featured prominently. We see an individual butt-chug human blood. So, that’s fun. Several games of Russian roulette are played, to mixed results. This one guy gets his face melted off with acid—that happens early on. And, of course, a whole lot of flying bullets, mayhem and destruction, and blood-drinking. Should be a good time.
The Mondo Crimson book trailer can be seen here:
JAS: I’d sincerely like to thank Andrew Post for taking the time to speak with me. I hope you enjoyed this interview, and if you would like to know more about the author and his works, feel free to connect with him on the following social medial platforms:
After two raids turn up zero evidence, narcotics detective Dwayne Spare infiltrates a crumbling apartment building where a suspected manufacturer of krokodil is hiding–but finds something much worse. The chemist Gerald Metzger isn’t after money; he’s lulling his most ‘dedicated’ customers into catatonia, to make contact with an eldritch being.
When Dwayne’s cover is blown, he becomes Metzger’s new test subject, an involuntary pilgrim into a world where “it’s all just in your head” is far from a reassuring statement.
Andrew Post was born in Erie, Pennsylvania (imagine Eraserhead but in color). While he was honing his craft as a writer (those early stories were awful) he worked in a gift shop in one of the scuzziest hotels in the Midwest, he cleaned rental cars (also gross), he was a butcher (despite being a vegetarian), and in 2013 his first novel, the cyberpunk thriller, Knuckleduster, was published. No one really seemed to care much but he kept at it and has since published a handful of other works to varying degrees of resulting public interest with a few seeing translations and one almost became a movie (that lit agent has since been fired).
Andrew lives in a sleepy river town in Minnesota where he may or may not be planning aquatic “accidents” to befall the many other authors who live in the area and he has been mistaken for Rob Zombie on no less than ten separate occasions.
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan