Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Learning Writer's Review: The Blade Itself by Marcus Sakey

Okay, you're going to think I've gone off the deep end, but I'm going to review the first bit of Marcus Sakey's The Blade Itself.

I hop over the to the Killer Year 2007 blog quite a bit and tend to read each of the authors' blogs, too. (Okay, I just program them into my reader.) So of course, they've been posting and trying to build buzz for each other (which is a wonderful thing to do). I've added them on my TBR 2007 list, but that's about it.

But the buzz is getting to me (in a good way), after this review at Murderati, and the New York Times review.

I went and read the excerpt of The Blade Itself here, and ... wow!!! I was blown away! I just had to talk about it because his book is due out next Tuesday, and because ... wow!! He is what is called a Hot New Talent!

We don't hear much about world-building in thrillers, but ... Marcus Sakey's got that nailed. It's in the details: details so vivid that you can see everything like one of those gritty gray-blue movies starring Sean Penn, details so fascinating and real your disbelief won't even notice that it's been suspended, and details so particular to character that within the first sentence, the two starring characters instantly come to life. To quote:

The alley wasn’t as dark as Danny would’ve liked, and Evan was driving him crazy, spinning the snub-nose like a cowboy in some Sunday matinee. “Would you put that away?”

“Keeps me cool.” Evan smiled the bar-fight grin that showed his chipped tooth.

“I don’t care if it makes you feel like Rick James. You shouldn’t have brought it.” Danny stared until his partner sighed and tucked the pistol into the back of his belt.

Okay, I couldn't help but quote a little more than the first sentence. I mean, it's so good. At first glance, the first sentence seems to pale in comparison to many of the attention-grabbing first sentences that have become par for the course in publishing, lately. But at close analysis, this first sentence packs a wallop of information.

First, "the alley wasn't as dark as Danny would've liked" tells us that Danny is cautious, he's not particularly thrilled about what they're about to do, and they're about to do something that requires darkness--probably something illegal. Look at all we've learned about Danny in the first third of a sentence, without any actual description of him!

Then we learn that "Evan was driving him crazy," which establishes conflict between Danny and Evan. Now, within the first half of a sentence, we have TWO questions: What are they about to do that they shouldn't do? Why are these two partnering to do something one wants to do, and one doesn't?

The last third of the sentence illustrates both Evan's character and the world in which we are about to dwell. I didn't know what a "snub-nose" was, so I had to read on to figure it out in context. See what I mean about details? That's one of those details that sounds and feels real. It shows us a world that we don't know and brings it to life.

And Evan's character? He's "spinning the snub-nose like a cowboy in some Sunday matinee." Well, he's casual and unconcerned, playing with his gun. He's not worried about the alley. He's not even worried about carrying a gun. We can even picture that cowboy in a Sunday matinee, the one that blusters and swaggers, causing problems for everyone. Too cocky for everyone else's good, and way too ready to draw that gun and use it.

We see him playing with the gun, and we have our third hook. For me, I had this sinking feeling, like "Oh sh-t. He's gonna use it. I just know this is going to go all wrong."

That's one hell of a first sentence!

After that sentence, Sakey doesn't lighten up. Every single sentence is as jam-packed and well-constructed as that first one. We're not just watching a train wreck, we're getting layers. Each character has fully-developed conflicts, emotions, and motivations.

And those details, man, those details. Makes me want to go do a TON more research. Check out how he describes a bad cop, and notice the little details he drops, like the "bristles of a street sweeper" for lock-picking. Notice how you can tell that Danny is listening hard into the night, aware of the sounds for fear of things going wrong. Isn't it amazing?

I'd go into it, but look at how long this post is already, and I haven't even gotten past the first sentence! Dear dog, I want to quote the whole darn thing to show you! Will you go read the excerpt and tell me your thoughts? Two heads are better than one, as they say!

0 bonus scribbles: