Friday, February 01, 2008

At City's Edge by Marcus Sakey

You gotta love a crime thriller that can make you cry.

That’s the thing about Marcus Sakey’s books: somewhere in the novel, there’s always a gut-grabber, perfectly timed to make you feel the stakes in the pit of your stomach. In both At the City’s Edge and The Blade Itself, the gut-grabbing is a father (or father figure) making a heroic choice of self-sacrifice.

It always leads me to wonder: What would I do if ... ? Would I be willing to sacrifice myself if ... ?

You gotta love a crime thriller that can make you think.

The thing about Marcus Sakey’s books is everyone’s got a stake. Every character has been pushed to near his breaking point, and the reader gets to watch all the character’s life-and-death motivations collide.

In At City’s Edge, Jason Palmer isn’t just out to find answers for his brother’s murder; he’s out to protect his eight year old nephew from a similar fate, and on a deeper level, he’s out to prove to himself he’s not just a washed-up soldier who lost a man in his unit because of a questionable decision.

Elena Cruz is out to prove she should be on the streets and not desked, that she didn’t make the Gang Intelligence Unit because she slept her way there. (A tad cliche, but it works in the delivery.)

Then there’s the multitude of bad guys, who, with their own stakes and motivations, are varying shades of grey and elicit varying degrees of sympathy. And because of that, they all feel real.

Everyone’s got a stake; it’s what drives the novel forward, makes the mood relentlessly grind on with an urgency that keeps you turning the pages.

It also made me wonder: do we always need stakes? I mean, in a novel about gang violence, what happened to the dumb shit that just happens? --Oopsy, fifteen year old kid gets spooked and shoots a man needlessly?

Oh yeah, there’s that, too, except it’s a kid with a cauliflower-ear. Cool.

But what makes Marcus Sakey’s books recognizably Marcus Sakey’s books is the fact that every single character, even the secondary ones, have life and death stakes.

What about you? Do you have life and death stakes for every character? Just for the main characters? And do you have any preference for one or the other?

7 bonus scribbles:

Travis Erwin 2/02/2008 02:17:00 PM  

I always know the motivations and goals of my secondary characters but I'll confess I don't always do a great job of showing them on my pages. Great post. That is something I need to work on.

By the way I just finished The Reincarnationist.

Aimless Writer 2/02/2008 03:04:00 PM  

Usually just the main character. However as the story chuggs along others get put in danger's path too. Mostly those closest to my POV character.

Edie 2/02/2008 04:50:00 PM  

My characters' motivations aren't usually life or death, not in women's fiction (not my last ms., anyway). But their stakes are high, and I'm always on the lookout for a way to make them higher.

spyscribbler 2/03/2008 10:26:00 AM  

Travis, I'm not sure I do, either. And sometimes, while they have their motivations, they're not quite pushed to the edge.

What did you think of The Reincarnationist? I finished it awhile back, but haven't changed my "Now Reading" thingamabob.

spyscribbler 2/03/2008 10:26:00 AM  

Aimless, me too. I'm going to toy with this new way of thinking, see what becomes of it. Maybe I'll toss it. Maybe I won't. :-)

spyscribbler 2/03/2008 10:28:00 AM  

LOL, Edie, even the motivations in this book aren't all literally life or death, but the ones that aren't are just about as high as life and death.

So it sounds like you've got it down pat!

Travis Erwin 2/03/2008 05:14:00 PM  

I had a hard time becoming involved in the beginning and then about halfway really got into it but the ending did not feel complete to me.

For me there was too many things left dangling. And you?