New American Noir: Sakey's 'Blade'

The title of Marcus Sakey's first novel, The Blade Itself, comes from a line from Homer. But the novel itself comes straight out of the new American noir tradition.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The title of Marcus Sakey's first novel, "The Blade Itself," is taken from a line from Homer. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, says the novel itself comes straight out of the new American noir tradition.

ALAN CHEUSE: Danny Carter is a small-time criminal from a poor Chicago neighborhood who's trying to go straight. He's hidden some of his nasty past from his girlfriend, Karen, and all of his past from his present employer, a Chicago construction contractor. When short-tempered Evan, Danny's old neighborhood pal and former partner in crime, returns to town after a seven-year stint in state prison, Danny first balks at teaming up with him again.

Ruthless Evan quickly comes up with a plan that will allow him, as Sakey has him say quite tersely to his stripper girlfriend, Debbie, to get rich and even at the same time.

In this way, Sakey sets in motion a simple, if compelling, plot, a plot that includes the kidnapping of the contractor's only son, a string of brutal murders and the possibility for self-betrayal and something resembling redemption. Sakey lays this out against the backdrop of Chicago in late autumn in language just as simple and straightforward as his plot, in dozens of brief, but effective, chapters.

His sense of psychology doesn't seem quite so effective. He goes deeper into Danny's character than Evan's, tilting somewhat the playing field toward the good bad guy and making us wonder about the bad bad guy, even as we grow to despise him. But if this is a flaw, it's not a deeply disfiguring one and one that this noirish new writer will quickly learn to efface over what I think are the many writing years ahead of him.

SIEGEL: The book is "The Blade Itself" by Marcus Sakey. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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