'Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed': Hip-Hop Noir Marc Blatte's first novel is billed as "hip hop noir" — a thriller set in the record studios and hip hop clubs of New York City — with a full serving of drugs, thugs, cops and violent death.
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'Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed': Hip-Hop Noir

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'Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed': Hip-Hop Noir

'Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed': Hip-Hop Noir

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

"Humpty Dumpty was Pushed" is the title of a novel billed as hip-hop noir, a thriller set in the record studios and hip-hop clubs of New York City, with a full serving of drugs, thugs, cops and violent death. The author is Marc Blatte. This is his first novel. He joins us from our New York studios where nothing bad happens. Welcome to the program.

Mr. MARC BLATTE (Author, "Humpty Dumpty was Pushed"): Thanks, Linda. Good to be here.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you wrote this book in several languages.

Mr. BLATTE: Mm-hmm.

WERTHEIMER: You have the hip-hop street talk as some of your gangster characters, and the mixed up English of Eastern European gangster characters, plus cop talk, music industry talk. But I must say that I did wonder and, you know, my experience wouldn't really help me with this, if a middle-aged white guy was getting this gangster thing right.

Mr. BLATTE: Well, first of all, one of the things that's - in answer to your question - no one at readings ever says to me, hey, Marc Blatte, how come you understand how the people in the Hamptons talk?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Yes.

Mr. BLATTE: Nobody ever says that to me. As far as the dialog and hip-hop, back in the late '90s, someone was looking for a string arranger for an R&B record, and I was recommended. And I loved this guy. And I said, what do you want to do? And he says, I want to start a hip-hop label. So I was, like, hmm, you want to start a hip-hop label? Maybe we can finance you. So my wife and I lost 400,000 on this hip-hop label.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLATTE: We spent two years hanging at the clubs, going to the shows and befriending the Wu-Tang. And so we were sort of kind of in the mix. And so that feels very natural to me.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the hero of this piece is a cop, a New York City detective whose name is Salvatore Messina, but that's not what he's called.

Mr. BLATTE: Right. He's called Black Sallie Blue Eyes.

WERTHEIMER: Now, where did you get that?

Mr. BLATTE: Well, I made it up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLATTE: But essentially, in my mind, you know, I was thinking of an Italian guy from the streets. What would be interesting about him is if he had straight black hair and these piercing blue eyes. And he's called Black Sallie Blue Eyes because of his hair, but also because he's incredibly dark - a very unhappy person. So at one point one of the - one of the gangsters that he's psyching out says to another gangster, boy, that guy is - he's really dark. And I would say his personality is kind of like he has his head up, his, you know what I'm saying? That's dark.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: I picked a page in which we first see Sallie at work. And it's close to the beginning of the book, so it's not going to give away any big parts of the plot. Page 15.

Mr. BLATTE: Yeah. I know this guy or someone who looks a lot like him, Black Sallie Blue Eyes said to no one in particular, referring to the oversized corpse lying on the pavement in the big outdoor parking lot at 22nd Street just west of 5th Avenue. He inspected the two entry wounds in the chest and another one in the back of the head.

Over at Starbucks last week, I remember him being very particular about his coffee. He sighed, then glanced away to admire the cornices of the old buildings adjacent to the parking lot. Their beauty and graceful designs soothed him for a moment, taking his mind off the bloody mess in front of him. Somebody run a check on those two cars left in here, he said. I want to know who owns them and what they were doing last night.

It's in the works, Ted Schwartz(ph) said. Hey, what do you make of the bright yellow socks? Everything the dead guy is wearing is black except for those socks. You think the guy's a Latin King? Yeah, and I'm a Saudi prince. Give me a break, Ted, Sallie said to his 20-something-Sampson-before-the-haircut partner. Look at that stupid bling the guy's got around his neck. And that whack-assed belt buckle with the leather pants. It doesn't fit. I'd give odds this guy's no native son. Everything about him says off the boat and not the Staten Island ferry.

WERTHEIMER: Did you think of this book as a morality tale? I mean, how did you envision a mystery novel, a thriller as a sort of a - it's a conceit. There's a - it's a sort of formal kind of book in some ways.

Mr. BLATTE: Well, yeah, that's true. Evan Hunter was one of the guys who really inspired me to write. I knew him when I was much younger.

WERTHEIMER: He wrote under another name.

Mr. BLATTE: He wrote under Ed McBain.

WERTHEIMER: Right.

Mr. BLATTE: He wrote "The Birds" for Hitchcock and "The Blackboard Jungle."

WERTHEIMER: Right.

Mr. BLATTE: And he said the same thing you're saying. He said it is a morality play. Somebody gets murdered and somebody gets punished for it. The problem in - what I was trying to do is I was trying to create a situation that was toxic, where eventually people would get killed. But it's not like there's a murderer out on the street, hide your children. It's more that anyone of us, given the right circumstances, is capable of murder. And I think the book does a very, very good job of creating that situation where somewhat ordinary people do heinous things.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, since your literary career began as a songwriter, that is, I read that on the back flap of the book, what sort of songwriter are you? I mean, how do you - how would you define what you do?

Mr. BLATTE: That's a really good question. I stopped writing songs seven years ago, right after the Trade towers went down. I wrote my last song called "Hole in the Sky." And it was selected to be on an album of songs by policemen and firemen. And after that I just sort of lost my enthusiasm. And I think part of it was because I didn't really feel as a songwriter I had a unique voice. I felt I was very good. People like Kenny Rogers, Celine Dion, The Four Tops, Marie Osmond, Dodie West, many people have cut my songs. And…

WERTHEIMER: So it sounds like - it sounds like you could write - you could write for one or write for the other, I mean, lots of voices.

Mr. BLATTE: Unfortunately, yes. So I never really felt like, for example, Burt Bacharach sounds like Burt Bacharach. You'd hear a Burt Bacharach song, oh, you know, that's got to be Burt Bacharach. You hear a Marc Blatte song, you go, that's a good song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLATTE: But, you know, it just doesn't distinguish itself. So, the beauty of this book, which I'm so excited about, is that the style is highly unique. And so it's kind of ironic that I spent 35 years writing songs that were well-crafted, somewhat inspired and quite successful, and then I write this book, and I finally achieved what I've set out for in life, which is to have a unique voice. So, that's worked out great.

WERTHEIMER: Marc Blatte joined us from our New York studios. His new novel, his first, is called "Humpty Dumpty was Pushed." Thanks very much.

Mr. BLATTE: It's been a pleasure.

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