Please welcome our February spotlight author, Marcus Sakey!
Synopsis and review of At the City's Edge:
Review and interview provided by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
After last year's spellbinding novel, The Blade Itself, it's hard to imagine that Sakey could do it again, but he does. In his new novel, the reader meets Jason Palmer, a young soldier back from Iraq who has yet to leave the war behind, and one who is only further taken adrift when his brother is found murdered in his bar in one the seedier neighborhoods of Chicago. A brutal killing that leaves behind his young son as one of the only possible witnesses. And as his brother was an advocate of cleaning up the neighborhood, all clues seem to point to a local gang as being the obvious culprits.
So while Jason desperately seeks the truth, and maybe just a bit of revenge, he'll have to dodge more than one bullet from the killers who are tracking not only him, but the only family he has left behind - his young nephew. But he will have help; local detective Elena Cruz is also on the case, and between the two they just might find the answers, if they can only survive the search.
In this highly provocative and convincing read of gangs, guns, politics, and violence, Sakey once again makes the streets of Chicago come vividly alive. As in his first novel, Sakey refuses to paint the city and its problems in black and white, instead using shades of grey in his depiction of the shadowy truths that remain unclear behind the haves and the have nots. This forceful, demanding, and altogether hard core adventure has all a good read requires and more. Read this one, and ponder its implications for awhile, it proves to be satisfying long after that last page has been turned.
Interview with Marcus Sakey:
1. Tell us a bit about your background, especially your close ties to Chicago and why you've made the city itself such a dominant force in your novels.
This is the part where I should lie, tell you I grew up on the south side. But actually I was born in Flint, Michigan. I didnít get to Chicago until about six years ago. I actually think thatís one of the things that helps me write about itóI may see it more clearly than someone who was born here.
To answer your question though, what I love about this city is its sense of duality, of worlds in juxtaposition. South side / North side, white / blue collars, hell, even two baseball teams. Itís built for story, and it serves as a good metaphor for America at large. How could I resist?
2. Now, tell us a bit about Elena Cruz and Jason Palmer, your latest protagonists; why are these two characters so seemingly adrift from the rest of the world?
Jason Palmer is just back from Iraq, reeling from an ďother than honorableĒ discharge. Heís lost the world he knew well, and hasnít yet found a new one.
Elena Cruz is a talented cop, the first woman in Chicago PDís Gang Intelligence Unit. Sheís fought hard to get there, but a mistake she made a year ago is haunting her, and driving her coworkers away from her.
Basically, they are both people badly damaged fighting for something they believe in. They fought the good fight, and didnít win, and now they have to figure out the next step.
3. Share a bit about your research for this latest book; your notes indicate you went a bit deep into the world of gangs and cops; what was that like?
It was incredible. Everyone is aware thereís a gang problem, but to put on a bulletproof vest and ride with the real Gang Intelligence Unit, that was a whole new world. I learned a lot of horrifying stuff, and used much of it in the book. While the narrative details are my own, the facts are accurate.
4. What did you find most striking while doing this research? Did you find the reality different than your preconceptions?
The saddest thing I ever learned came when I was asking a cop how they gauged the power of gangs. And he said that since they wouldnít exactly sit still for a census, they counted on secondary indicatorsótattoos, known associates, and the like. But the best way to mark their power, he said, was simple.
Count the number of schools on their turf.
5. The unique inner-world of gangs is a big part of your new novel, admittedly fictional, but you make a striking point when you say in your notes that "If we don't make changes as a society, and I mean quick, we're in for a world of hurt." How does this comment relate to your perception of what and why gangs are as depicted in your story?
The thing is, itís easy to understand how gangs come about, and why theyíre so hard to fight. Iím not defending the actions these kids take, but what do we expect? They have one parent who is usually either an addict or else working three jobs to take care of the kid. They live in a world where shootings are a simple fact of life, where a weekend in the summer might have as many as ten incidents. Their schools are falling apart, their role models are rap stars and basketball players, and half of them, fully half, are expected to drop out before they graduate high school. One in four black men born in America will do time in prison.
I mean, really, what do we expect to happen? Can you blame them for looking for another way?
6. Besides the great suspense and vividly drawn characters in your latest, you've also incorporated a few very adventurous scenes, including some great shoot outs and blow ups, how fun was that to write?
Oh man, I love writing that stuff. I get bombed out of my skull on caffeine and write them in a terrific rush, pounding out fifteen or twenty pages in a sitting. Itís like watching a movie you can control.
7. Speaking of which, this is one of those books that would also make a great movie; did that ever occur to you while writing it?
Well first, thanks, and from your lips to Godís ears.
You think about it, but not in a way that impacts how you work. However, I do think that all the movies Iíve watched play into the way I write. I conceive of scenes very visually, sometimes even thinking of it terms of where the camera might be.
Thus far, the rights to this book are still available. However, the rights to my first book, THE BLADE ITSELF, have been sold to Ben Affleck and Matt Damonís production company. So hereís hoping.
8. Your empathy for those with fewer opportunities than others is quite refreshing, but no doubt those of a more conservative ilk might see this as an unjustified excuse for less than upstanding behavior. What would you say in defense to such arguments to clarify your meaning?
In the same vein, both your novels seem to debate the conservative premise that America provides equal opportunities to all, regardless of background, another contentious issue, how would you respond to that argument?
Well, Iím not suggesting that anyone should get a free pass, that the disadvantaged donít have to follow the rules. But itís important not to reduce the issues to black and white. The world is complicated, and the playing field isnít equal. The best thing we can be doing is trying to level it as much as possible, to educate all our children, to feed and clothe them, to support environments where they can be raised in health and safety, where they can be taught right from wrong and inspired to make themselves into something.
If you had that, as I did, youíre one of the lucky ones. Itís the worst kind of arrogance to believe that makes you better than anyone else. Just lucky. And while yes, I believe criminals must be dealt with, I would far rather A) see them offered opportunities other than crime in the first place, and B) rehabilitated, rather than simply punished.
Will it be easy? No. But ask yourselfóare we even heading the right direction?
9. While you do admit in your notes that your latest is not a sociological study, what do you hope readers will take away most from your story, in addition to being heartily entertained of course?
If the book in any small way makes people wonder if weíre going the right direction, Iíd be happy. If it prompted anyone to make a change, or to give ten bucks, or to vote for Barack Obama, Iíd be giddy.
That said, I write stories first. Itís not a polemic.
11. Okay, an easy one; Cubs or the White Sox?
The Golden Gloves.
12. And last question; what can readers look forward to next time around?
I just finished my third novel, which will be coming out this August. Itís another crime thriller, a little more intimate this time.
All Tom and Anna Reed ever wanted was a family and the security to enjoy it. But years of infertility treatments, including four failed attempts at in-vitro fertilization, have left them with neither. The costs, both emotional and financial, are straining their relationship and endangering their dreams. So when their downstairs tenantóa recluse whose cashierís checks were barely keeping them afloatódies in his sleep, the $400,000 they find stashed in his kitchen seems like fate. More than fate: A chance for the fairy tale ending theyíve always dreamed of.
But Tom and Anna soon realize that fairy tales donít come cheap. Because their tenant wasnít a hermit who squirreled away his pennies. He was a criminal who double-crossed some of the most dangerous men in Chicago. Men who wonít stop until they get revengeóno matter where they find it.
I was born in Flint, Michigan. Loving parents still
together, forty-plus years and counting.
brother. Attended the University of Michigan, two majors, both
promptly ignored. Collected single terms at grad schools in several states.
For more info on Marcus Sakey, please visit his website at: http://www.marcussakey.com