Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pg. 69: "The Wheelman"

Duane Swierczynski is editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia City Paper and author of The Wheelman , The Blonde, and other books about crime and vice. Among the praise for The Wheelman:
"Fast-moving and funny, The Wheelman is a Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in an R-rated amusement park."
I asked Duane to apply the "page 69 test" to The Wheelman. Here is what he reported:
What a great idea for a series of essays: open to a seemingly arbitrary page (I can only imagine why Marshal chose “69” out of all possible numbers) in your novel, then talk about what’s there.

Of course, I flip to page 69 in my second novel, The Wheelman and…

Well, yeah. I figured it’d be something like this:
“Yes. Mother. Fuck.”


Leave it to me to open page 69 with some naughty language.

The speaker is a Russian mob boss whose beloved son has been murdered; he’s meeting in a greasy diner with an Italian mob boss, and both have come to realize that their kids’ lives are intertwined:
The fathers hadn’t known about the connection between the two.

Lisa Perelli had been dating La Salle University senior Andrew Whalen for three months—ever since the end of winter break, when one of Lisa’s friends had dumped Whalen and she was there to pick up the pieces. They got along famously. Lisa already knew Andrew’s ticks; she’d heard Kimberly complain enough about them. She knew how to circumvent them, use them, fashion him into what she wanted. Mostly.

By sheer coincidence, Andrew Whalen played in a rock band with Mikal Fieuchevsky, the son of a suspected Russian mafiya vor based in Northeast Philadelphia.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Crime Commission did not see this as sheer coincidence. They had been wiretapping Andrew Whalen’s dorm and home phone lines since January 10, 2003, when news of the Whalen-Perelli affair first made it back to headquarters. The Crime Commission saw it as a direct link between the dying Italian mob and the leaner, younger, tougher Russian mob. The relationship was a rouse, they reasoned; Whalen got his dick…
Well that’s enough of that. Things get a little randy, as they say, at this point.

I can be such a pottymouth.

Anyway—it’s funny this popped as page 69. Because I’m more about the show than the tell. Action, action, action. Never let the reader grow bored. Always keep him off balance. With this as my goal, I try to keep exposition (like the selection above, where I’m explaining stuff) to a minimum. This no doubt comes out of my journalism background, where the trick is to artfully blend showing and telling, quotes and exposition, action and background.

This page is a lot of telling. Bummer.

Then again, maybe this page is representative of The Wheelman. The novel follows Lennon, a mute Irish getaway driver who makes one little mistake—one could argue it wasn’t even a mistake—and the universe jumps down his throat sideways. Lennon’s universe is a cruel and random universe, where chances encounters rule the day and your only way out is a cocktail or nerves, skill and sheer luck. This encounter between the Russian mafiya vor and the old school Italian wiseguy is straight out of this universe. Total chaos; not an ounce of rational design.

A cruel, random universe.

Much like this essay series.

I love it.
Thanks to Duane for the input.

Here's just a taste of the praise that rolled in for The Wheelman:
“Duane Swierczynski is one of the best new things to happen to crime fiction in a long time. A kick-ass writer with wicked cool skills and the instincts of a seasoned veteran. Keep your eyes on him. He’s going places.”
—Victor Gischler, Edgar-nominated author of Gun Monkeys

“I canceled a night out and stayed up all night reading. That’s how much I loved this book . . . at every turn, I was blindsided. Hilarious and bloody violent.”
Ken Bruen, Shamus Award–winning author of The Guards
Here's the advance word from Booklist on The Blonde, due out this month:
Swierczynski's The Wheelman (2005) was an adrenaline-charged thrill ride through the streets of Philadelphia, and this one is, too. But where Wheelman offered an inventive take on a traditional crime scenario--the heist gone wrong--The Blonde serves up more high--concept fare. Jack Eisley, dreading a meeting with his wife's ball-busting divorce lawyer, meets an attractive blond who informs him that she just poisoned his drink. If he wants the antidote, she adds, he'd better stay close, because if she doesn't have someone within 10 feet of her at all times, she'll die. Unfortunately for Jack, she is not a psycho. She is infected with fast-replicating and highly infectious nanomachines--and followed by a government agent who already has one head in his duffel bag. Her predicament, which soon becomes Jack's--thanks to an injudicious kiss--requires entertaining, nonstop problem solving. If the premise sounds hard to swallow, it's worth taking the bait. This is another fast, funny, and action-packed outing from a writer who, fortunately for us, doesn't seem to know how to slow down.
How's this for a crime writer's cred?: A receipt for This Here’s a Stick-Up, Duane’s nonfiction book on American bank robbery, was found in the getaway car of a San Francisco bandit who’d hit at least thirty California banks.

In case you wondered: our author is indeed "the only Duane Swierczynski in this country."

And, yes, he's the "Duane Swierczynski" who makes an appearance in Michael Connelly's Echo Park.

Previous "page 69 tests":
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue