Like any reader, I love my old favorites…but I love new voices too, and I especially love it when a new voice starts to become an old favorite. It doesn’t happen often, but right now it’s happening with Marcus Sakey.
I read his first book pre-publication, and his next four confirmed what I sensed at the start, which was that this guy is the real deal and the complete package. He’s got it all. He writes likes a dream (or a nightmare), he creates characters exactly like people you know (or don’t want to know), he scares you (or makes you laugh), and above all keeps you turning the pages.
But most of all, he does the “what if” thing better than anyone in the business. What if you’ve gone straight for years, and then an old buddy gets out of prison and tries to drag you back? What if you get back from Iraq and find home is worse than the desert? What if you buy a house and find a bag of cash hidden in the floor? Would you keep it? What if you saw a way to steal a bad guy’s money - no harm, no foul? Would you do it?
“What if” questions power a lot of plots, but Sakey is special. He doesn’t just check a box or construct a neat twist for the sake of it. Reading him between the lines, I guarantee he really lives this stuff…he thinks it through and sweats it out, probably for weeks at a time. I can see him, looking around at the things he loves, looking at his house, turning and looking at his wife, asking himself, “What if? What is I had to put all this at risk? Would I? Could I? How would it feel? What would be the effect on me?”
It’s that kind of depth and intelligence and passion and emotion that sets Sakey apart.These are not just clever plots. These are real people with night sweats and wide eyes and everything to lose.
The new book The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes takes “what if” in a new direction and to new heights. Every writer muses, “What if the reader isn’t sure whether the husband killed his wife, or not? That’s a basic whodunit. But Sakey asks, ‘What if the husband isn’t sure whether he killed his wife, or not? That’s a terrific premise, and it boosts an already–terrific thriller plot into the stratosphere. Add in LA’s easy glitz and glamour, and coast-to-coast chase tension, and a bad guy to die for (or be killed by, and shocks and surprises galore, and you’ve got the kind of story you’ve never read before.
Or, to sum it up in one line, a what-if question of my own: what if Dennis Lehane wrote a Harlan Coben story?
Photo of Lee Child © Sigrid Estrada