Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Pg. 69: "Big City, Bad Blood"

"Sean Chercover has been a private investigator in Chicago and New Orleans, and has written scripts for television documentaries and children's shows," his website claims. "He's also worked as a film and video editor, scuba diver, nightclub magician, car-jockey, waiter, truck driver, encyclopedia salesman and in other, less glamorous positions. These days, he splits his time between Chicago and Toronto, and generally stays out of trouble. Big City, Bad Blood is his first novel."

I asked Sean to apply the "page 69 test" to his book. Here is what he reported:
Page 69 of Big City, Bad Blood is the end of a chapter and contains a mere paragraph of text. So with apologies to Marshall McLuhan, let’s back up to 68. Will we find an accurate representation of the novel as a whole?

I guess we first need to define the novel-as-a-whole. Big City, Bad Blood is a first-person thriller narrated by Chicago P.I. Ray Dudgeon, who is working as a bodyguard for a movie producer named Bob Loniski. The plot deals with murder and cover-up and sexual blackmail and political corruption. It takes Ray from the back alleys of Chicago to the mansions of Beverly Hills to the corridors of power in Washington DC.

On page 68 . . . we find Ray in the midst of an argument with his girlfriend, ER nurse Jill Browning. Damn. I was hoping for a car chase or a gunfight or some such thing.

Okay, let’s look at the scene. Jill is not sure that she can be in a relationship with a man who wears a gun and disappears for days at a time and makes enemies of violent men. She needs to understand what drives Ray to do what he does for a living. But Ray is pretty messed-up when it comes to relationships and has major issues with trust. He holds a lot inside, and Jill (justifiably) feels frozen-out. She’s getting tired of waiting for him to open up emotionally. As she pushes Ray to let her in, the argument has become heated, and ends thusly . . .

“I’m doing my fucking best!” I snapped. The pager on my belt went off. Bob Loniski was ready to be picked up from work. “Look, I—”

“You have to go,” she said.

“I can be back in a couple of hours.”

“Please don’t. I need some time. I’ll call you later.”

“I’ll be home,” I said.

I delivered Bob to his apartment without any trouble and went straight home. There was a message waiting on my answering machine.

It was Jill. The message was as hard for me to listen to as it was for her to leave. She was crying into the telephone and I had to play it twice before I understood it all. The bottom line was, she was in love with me but she would not see me again. There was stuff about how she couldn’t bear to lose me but it was better to lose me now than to live the rest of her life waiting for the day I don’t come home. And there was other stuff about trust. There were a lot of half-started sentences that ended in sobs and the whole thing ended with her begging me never to call her again.

I opened a bottle of bourbon and got very drunk and smashed some things and passed out in my clothes.

So, was that a fair representation of a P.I. thriller about murder and cover-up and sexual blackmail and political corruption? Perhaps surprisingly, I would have to say, “Yes.” Because, for all of the action and suspense, Big City, Bad Blood is ultimately about Ray Dudgeon, an emotionally isolated man who struggles to connect with other human beings. A lonely man who, while fighting the tangible antagonists in the physical world, must also fight his own internal demons.
Many thanks to Sean for the input.

Among the impressive advance praise for Big City, Bad Blood:
"This is James Crumley for a whole new generation, with the spirit of Nelson Algren walking point. Not only is Sean Chercover the new kid on the block, he may well be the only kid on the block."
-- Ken Bruen, author of The Guards and American Skin

"The story is tight, the voice self-assured, and the characters as hardboiled as they come - especially the protagonist, Ray Dudgeon. Chercover really delivers the goods here, in as solid a debut as I've seen in a long, long time."
-- Steve Hamilton, Edgar Award-winning author of A Stolen Season

“Cross Robert Crais' Elvis Cole with Loren Estleman’s Amos Walker, and you’d have Sean Chercover’s Ray Dudgeon. Wonderful descriptions of the Windy City’s under-belly, and beautifully paced action. Expect a Shamus Award nomination for Big City, Bad Blood."
-- Jeremiah Healy, author of The Only Good Lawyer and Turnabout
You don't have to be Einstein to know a good read...but it helps.

Would you like to have a character named after you in Sean's next novel? Click here.

Sean is a member of The Outfit and Killer Year writers' blogs.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
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