On the mystery listservs where I lurk there’s been almost universal praise for this debut thriller from Chicago author Marcus Sakey. After finishing his novel, I’m happy to report that it lives up to the hype. So often these kinds of things don’t work out, which is always a risk when you’re dealing with listserv folks who only read books that feature mystery-solving dachshunds. Talking mystery-solving dachshunds.
Back to the book. Two lower-class kids from an Irish neighborhood, Evan and Danny, were best friends from childhood and began dabbling in petty theft in their teen years. One night they decide to step up their efforts and a crime of opportunity goes horribly, horribly wrong. Evan goes to prison while Danny escapes and uses the survivor’s guilt to walk the straight and narrow. Years later, Danny has a great job and a steady relationship. But Evan gets out of prison and quickly wants to look up his old friend. It’s a simple story, really, of frienship and the choices we make when one person has something to live for and the other one doesn’t. In Sakey’s hands the plot races forward, unfolding into a taut ethical thriller that seems destined for Hollywood; if a promising young screenwriter can’t make a major motion picture out of this I may have to do it myself.
Marcus Sakey is from Chicago, and it shows on every page. His words demonstrate a great feel for the city, from the middle-class tourist-friendly neighborhoods of Wrigleyville to the seedier ethnic neighborhoods and bars of the South Side. The Blade Itself is a novel of place, and the Chicago streets become as familiar to the reader as it is to the characters. Some reviewers have claimed that Sakey is Lehane-esque – I wouldn’t go quite that far, as Lehane occupies some serious literary territory, but Sakey does that sense of place thing for Chicago that Lehane does with Boston, and the story of the two friends who turn out very differently given similar circumstances is a close parallel to the characters in Lehane’s Mystic River, so I see where that comes from.
The Blade Itself is an worthy ethical thriller and worth the read.
(I’m thinking Ryan Gosling for Danny, perhaps, and Ben Foster for Evan. Can Ben Foster do a Chicago accent? Someone get me his agent.)