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The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes Hardcover – June 9, 2011
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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
“An unpredictable suspense novel that keeps the reader guessing to the end...A full-throttle thriller.” — The New York Times
“A tight, intuitive, and terrific read. The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes confirms Marcus Sakey’s place as one of our best storytellers.” — Michael Connelly
“A brainy, twisty, sometimes twisted mystery.” — New York Times bestselling author Gillian Flynn
“If you crave sleep, steer clear of Marcus Sakey. Start one of his books at bedtime, and you can forget about slumber…His stories are crisp, cool and utterly convincing, with plots that sweep you up like a midnight raid at a speakeasy. Sakey is also a beautiful prose stylist.” — Chicago Tribune
“The action is fast paced, the tension is nearly constant, and there are more twists in the plot than a double helix. A possible threat to readers’ cardiac health.” — Library Journal (Starred Review) --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Top customer reviews
The concept of the book starts out straight-forward enough: a man awakes naked and freezing on a beach somewhere with no memory of who he is, and has to slowly piece things together from there. Initially, this seems to be a rip-off of the Jason Bourne opening, but I can assure you right now that the protagonist is no super-human or secret agent. This is a plain old thriller fiction novel that starts out as a mystery, and slowly builds to a nail-biting, stomach churning whirl-wind of who-is-who and how will they make it out of there questions. Due to the compounding nature of the unanswered questions in this book, the plot really can't be explored much more than that ...
However, this book is utterly engaging. If you've read Sakey's "The Amateurs" (another book I highly recommend), then I'll just say that an enigma of a character in THAT book makes a surprise return in THIS book, and is nothing short of sickly captivating. Sakey, as always, does a fantastic job writing terse, quick prose that near-perfectly mimics the thoughts of an actual person. His style is not quite as vernacular and slang heavy as Stephen King, but in the same sense, it's very down to earth and realistic. At times, where appropriate, he does elevate the prose to a very rich, highly figurative and metaphor laden affair, but for all of the action bits, things take on a very clipped, very quick-paced nature.
Despite what that might lead to, Sakey also does a fantastic job of weaving deeper meanings, life-lessons, and philosophical ponderings into the text. Where Michael Crichton often took a moment to explore in detail the technical side of the fictional universe he was creating, Sakey takes a moment to pose some interesting theories, dilemmas, and solutions to grander life issues. For example, the title of this book forms one of the bigger themes in this novel that takes until nearly the last page to be fully explored, and the concept is nothing less than beautiful.
My only real complaint to this book is similiar to that of "The Amateurs": it ends a little too abruptly. While everything leading up to the conclusion is slow, methodical, and nail-biting, the climax and conclusion itself comprise a dozen or so pages, and leave some unanswered questions. Related to this, while most of the book is starkly realistic, the ending takes at least a few liberties with reality in order to create a somewhat forced and Hollywood-style ending. Regardless, it is a memorable and great ending to a fantastic story.
The plot goes like this; Daniel Hayes wakes up dragging his naked self out of the Atlantic Ocean and into a waiting BMW which contains clothes that fit him, cash and a Rolex. With no memory of who he is or why he might have wanted to drown himself, Daniel must reconstruct his life from only the impulses he's left with. Why is he compelled to watch a fluffy show about 3 sisters from Venice, CA? Why does he think he knows one of the actresses? Why is there a gun that's been recently fired in the BMW?
The plot moves along quickly, revealing itself bit by bit as Daniel tries to find out who he really is, and what he might have done that has him racked with guilt. Battling against a villain who's always one step ahead of Daniel, he's given no time to work out what his life might be and who to trust, which certainly adds to the thrill of the chase. In fact, the Bennett, the villain, is quite remarkable, making me wish I'd been given more background into how he came to be. He actually made Daniel seem a little bland by comparison.
There's also a female lead in the novel which I won't say who because it gives away some of the plot, but I found her to be a bit boring and cliche`, while another female character in Daniel's life was far more interesting.
I really enjoy Sakey's writing, and I'm adding him to my go-to authors for a good suspense novel, but for me, Brilliance was the better book. For some reason I didn't get the ending of the book, which is a first. Or maybe I did and didn't trust my conclusions. Regardless, this is a very good book and I had fun reading it through to the end.