Saturday, January 27, 2007

Pg. 69: "The Strangler"

William Landay is the author of the highly acclaimed Mission Flats, winner of the John Creasey Dagger as the best debut crime novel of 2003, and The Strangler, which hits the book stores on January 30th.

Bill was good enough to put The Strangler to "page 69 test." Here's what he discovered:
As a writer, I bristle at the idea that any novel of mine could be captured in a single page. The unique power of a novel is in the cumulative effect of all those pages, the gradual brushing-in of detail after detail, the intimacy of all those hours spent with (fictional) people. Isn’t it?

Well, sort of. I open my new novel, The Strangler, to page 69 and realize, with a gulp, “Actually, this is a pretty good sample of the book’s tone.”

Here is the scene: It is December 1963 in Boston. The city is still stunned by the Kennedy assassination and enthralled by the serial murderer already known as the Boston Strangler — who killed yet another woman on Saturday, November 23, the day after Kennedy was shot, as if to say, “I’m still here, I’m still the lead story.”

At the top of page 69, we are at Boston P.D. Station 16, in the Back Bay. It is the evening roll call. Having been caught in a corruption scandal, Detective Joe Daley has been demoted and forced to stand guard night after night at the Nativity scene in Boston Common. Joe’s brother Ricky has played a nasty trick on him: he distracted Joe, then stole the statue of the baby Jesus.

Now, to Joe’s embarrassment, the watch commander at Station 16 is informing the cops before their shift to be on the lookout for a missing person. He announces, to raucous laughter,

“The missing child is described as follows. Height: twenty inches. Hair: none. Age: approximately two thousand years, give or take. Last seen wearing a diaper and blanket and emitting a strange heavenly glow. … The boy’s father — hold on, fellas, hold on now — the boy’s father is a very powerful man. I can vouch for that: I used to be an altar boy — I worked for the guy.”

Two things about the scene strike me strike me as good examples of what The Strangler is all about. First, there is the interplay of public and private. There are three main protagonists in the book, the Daley brothers, Joe, Michael, and Ricky. Each of the brothers becomes enmeshed in the criminal life of the city, in one dark corner or another. But it is the relationship of these three men — or boys in men’s bodies — that is the book’s heart. The title notwithstanding, this is really a book about family as much as it is about the Boston Strangler (or surviving the mean streets or any of the other tried-and-true themes of crime novels).

Second, there is the foundation of fact that underlies the novel. Part of the adventure of writing this story was the original research I did into the crime scene in Boston circa 1963. I got to know a couple of old cops, both fascinating guys, who gave me so much wonderful material that inevitably most of it had to be left out. This business about standing watch overnight at the Nativity scene as a punishment came directly from these two retired BPD cops, Jack Daley and Ed Tobin. It took them a while, Jack told me, before they realized it was easier just to pick up the damn statues, throw them in the trunk of the car, and set them up again in the morning, rather than stand around in the freezing cold all night. But the best story was Ed’s. One night he was stuck with this punishment duty, and the black sheep went missing. So of course he painted one of the white sheep black. Only to return the next night to find two black sheep. Out came the paint again.

This seems to me typical of the cop life: the gallows humor, the mix of terror and laughter. In a moment very like 9/11 — a shocking public murder in Dallas; in Boston the fear of madmen among us; anxiety everywhere — these cops still found time to laugh and play pranks on one another. Life went on. It has a way of doing that.
Many thanks to Bill for the input.

Read an excerpt from The Strangler and read, or listen to, a Q & A with the author.

Among the advance praise for the novel:
“Landay shows a truly sizzling Boston.”
Kirkus Reviews

“…engrossing … Landay (Mission Flats) movingly explores the bonds of family and basic questions of honesty and loyalty. While the novel suggests another killer than the historical Boston Strangler, the emphasis remains on such themes as crime and punishment, love and honor, truth and justice.”
Publishers Weekly

“Landay makes good use of his own experience as a prosecutor, but the real tension is in the moral ambiguities. Framed by the larger story of the Strangler, the inner tale masterfully portrays the insidiousness of greed, even within the Daley family. Good may triumph, but not at all clearly, and the many twists are truly shocking in the hands of this masterly plotter.”
Library Journal
Back in 2003 Sarah Weinman reviewed Mission Flats for January Magazine:
Ultimately, this first effort by Landay, a former assistant district attorney in Boston, is as much about the investigation of a crime as it is about the investigation of the complexities of people. Early reviews have compared him to the likes of Scott Turow, Dennis Lehane and John Grisham. It's my belief that it won't be long before future debut novelists will be compared to a list of authors topped by Landay himself. Mission Flats is much more than a remarkable debut; it's one of the best efforts in crime fiction so far this year. Whether that places undue expectations on the author's future career will, of course, remain to be seen, but with Mission Flats, he's off to a flying start.
And The Strangler is one of the five books she's most looking forward to this year, a sentiment echoed by Jeff Pierce.

Previous "page 69 tests:"
Kate Holden, In My Skin
Brian Wansick, Mindless Eating
Noria Jablonski, Human Oddities
Ruth Scurr, Fatal Purity
Neal Pollack, Alternadad
Bella DePaulo, Singled Out
Steve Hamilton, A Stolen Season
Eric Klinenberg, Fighting for Air
Donna Moore, ...Go to Helena Handbasket
Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye
Neal Thompson, Riding with the Devil
Sherry Argov, Why Men Marry Bitches
P.J. Parrish, An Unquiet Grave
Tyler Knox, Kockroach
Andrew Rehfeld, The Concept of Constituency
Laura Wiess, Such a Pretty Girl
Jeremy Blachman, Anonymous Lawyer
Andrew Pyper, The Wildfire Season
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Meghan Daum, The Quality of Life Report
Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
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