Thursday, July 15, 2010

Audiobook Thursday: A Pair by Marcus Sakey

I listened to Marcus' first and last - well, most recent is probably a better descriptor - anyway, I listened to them back-to-back. Of course I'm talking about THE BLADE ITSELF and THE AMATEURS. So, I decided to make this week's Audiobook Thursday a big celebration of Marcus Sakey.


FIRST LINE: "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."

Growing up, Danny lived a life of crime. But after a close call robbing a pawn shop, a robbery that sent his best friend Evan away to prison, Danny vows to give up his life of crime. He settles into a quiet middle-class life with his girlfriend Karen and a middle management job in construction. Danny is living the American dream when Evan shows back up on his doorstep, insisting that Danny owes him for taking the pawnshop fall alone. Evan demands that Danny help him with a final "job." Danny's made a life he's proud of, he resists going back to his old ways until Evan starts threatening the ones that he loves. When he turns to the cops for help, his past comes back to haunt him. Danny's forced to make a decision that has no winning outcome.

Marcus Sakey is the master of the common man thriller. His characters are ordinary people caught up in extraordinary, and very believable, situations. In Sakey's debut novel, Danny wants to live a life on the straight and narrow, but sometimes what we want and what we get aren't necessarily the same things. And sometimes the choices aren't as easy as black and white. It's easy to sit in judgment until you're actually in the situation yourself. And we've all faced those decisions where there is no easy answer. Sakey brings the reader into the fictional situation by allowing the reader to easily identify with actual situations. When Danny's "heart bang[s] against his ribs like an animal throwing itself at the bars of its cage," so does the readers'. Through his skilled plotting and character development, Sakey pulls the reader down off the judge's bench and plants him/her firmly in the defendant's chair.

Sakey has a knack for taking what, at first glance, may appear to be the mundane and making it pivotal. Whether it be a heat register cover or a card fluttering to the floor, it has a enormous effect on the tone of the scene.

"Something inside Danny broke into manic laughter, wet-cheeked and fearsome, like a little boy who turned on a light to realize the monster in the corner of his room was only a stack of clothes on the dresser...Thinking that the problem with the relief the little boy in his bedroom felt was that at some point, he had to turn the lights back off.

And when he did, the monsters would be waiting."

THE BLADE ITSELF is told in an alternating third person limited point of view. This perspective allows Sakey to put the reader in the middle of the action and have a 360 degree view of the collision raining down on him/her as the climax of the novel. This builds the intensity of the pace and enhances the explosiveness of the suspense. And the effect starts on page one, and snowballs to the end.

THE BLADE ITSELF is a top-notch thriller, definitely earning Sakey the title bestowed on him by the Chicago Tribune: "new reigning prince of crime fiction." The audiobook didn't quite live up to the printed word for me. The book was read by Grover Gardner who, I think, has a unique sound and it didn't work in this case. Evan didn't come across as a hardened, gruff character, and at times Danny almost sounded a little whiny. That definitely affects the tone of this novel. But to me that says a lot about the writing. If the writing were not as strong, I would have had a hard time determining what wasn't right. But the words themselves created a much different effect for me. To be fully appreciated this book might be a better option for print.


FIRST LINE: "Later Jenn Lacie would spend a lot of time trying to pinpoint the exact moment.

Jenn, Alex, Ian and Mitch are best friends. They meet every Thursday night at the bar where Alex works as a bartender. None of their lives are turning out as they had planned. Alex is divorced and struggling to make child support payments when his ex-wife and her new husband inform him they are moving out of state and taking Alex's daughter, everything he lives for. Ian is spiraling downward after rising in the world of Wall Street; he's compensating through addictive behaviors that are pulling him into dangerous realms. Mitch and Jenn wonder how they ended up in dead-end jobs and mundane life styles. More than anything, they all despise the well-to-do people who look down on each of them, as though they were less important, they didn't count as much. The four friends are tired of being the honest, hard-workers scraping to get by. When Alex discovers his crooked boss is keeping hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bar safe for an illegal transaction, they decide to team up and steal the money. After all, who's it really going to hurt? Criminals? But when Jenn, Alex, Ian and Mitch learn that four average, hard-working Americans don't really know how to commit a crime, it's too late and they are in too deep. There is no "do over" button, no escape clause. In for a penny, in for a pound.

THE AMATEURS is Marcus Sakey's most recent novel, and he hasn't faded with time, instead he's gaining momentum. Which is quite a feat considering the momentum of THE BLADE ITSELF, his debut novel. THE AMATEURS deals with a question that probably every middle class American has ever asked himself, "why not me?" The feeling that those with more shouldn't have the entitlement. Sakey's four protagonists are tired of being pushed around and looked down upon, treated as though they are second class citizens.  Especially in the present economic conditions, who hasn't felt that way? Who hasn't felt that they're working hard just to keep sinking further? Again, as with his previous novels, Sakey immediately makes that connection with his readers by tapping into a common thread.

And Sakey again makes use of the alternating third person limited point of view. The reader braces for the inevitable to happen, for discoveries to be made, for conflicts to occur, for everything to come to an explosive collision. The thing about bracing for that collision is that the result is usually more dramatic than if you don't see it coming. However, don't be afraid that there are no surprises. Sakey doesn't short change the reader on surprises either.

THE AMATEURS doesn't short change in any aspect of the book. The characters are rich, developed and dynamic. Most readers won't have any trouble identifying an Alex, a Mitch, an Ian and a Jenn in their own lives, quite possibly their own selves. While they all have quirks and irritating characteristics, those foibles make the friends even more life-like. And that also works to make that collision more dramatic; the reader becomes invested in those characters and it matters what happens to them.

Sakey doesn't throw easy right or wrong questions into the fold of this plot. The four friends do something they shouldn't and they can't take it back, but then their situation grows more complicated and they're confronted with more ethical and moral situations that Sakey wants the reader to seriously consider as well. The questions will resonate with the reader beyond the last page. For these four friends their wishes become terrifying realities. Reach deep down and answer honestly, "what would YOU do?" Ready? Go!

THE AMATEURS is narrated on audio by Dan John Miller. This was a great pairing of plot and reader. Miller is able to not only bring to life the intensity of the plot and the pace of the plot, but I also think he embodies that "everyman" persona. The characters are nondescript because they could be you or I.  They could be your neighbor or your teacher or your boss. I also think this was probably a challenging book to narrate because of the four protagonists. Sakey's dialogue flows very naturally, so there isn't a lot of call for "he said"/"she said," so the narrator has to keep those dialogue sequences descriptive enough to identify four to five or six characters in one scene. Miller is able to do that proficiently. This was definitely a strong audiobook and one I would highly recommend.

THE BLADE ITSELF is available in print in both hardcover (ISBN: 978-0-312-36031-3) and mass market paperback (ISBN: 978-0-312-37104-3) from St. Martin's Minotaur. The audio was produced by BBC Books (ISBN: 978-0-792-74720-8).

THE AMATEURS is available in hardcover print (ISBN: 978-0-525-95126-1) from Dutton and on unabridged audio from Brilliance (ISBN: 978-1-423-36697-3). 

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Beth F July 15, 2010 at 6:31 AM  

Interesting that you had two very different audio experiences with same author and different narrators. Just show that not everything is made for audio and the narrator can have a strong effect on the enjoyment.

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