Sunday, September 07, 2008

Pg. 69: Bill Loehfelm's "Fresh Kills"

Now featured at the Page 69 Test: Bill Loehfelm's Fresh Kills.

About the book, from the publisher:
In Fresh Kills, the murder of John Sanders, Sr. on a New York street corner reunites his estranged and abused children, John, Jr. and Julia. While Julia struggles to keep things together on the home front, Junior, unhinged by his father's death, searches for the killer across the bleak, haunted landscape of his Staten Island hometown. Complicating Junior's pursuit are two police detectives: one, a former childhood friend; the other, a veteran cop who might have his own reasons to wish John, Sr. dead. Junior's affair with his high school sweetheart doesn’t exactly simplify the situation either, and his emotional state crumbles under the pressure coming at him from every side. When the opportunity for revenge presents itself, Junior must decide whether he will continue the chain of violence that has nearly destroyed his life, or give in to the possibility of a new beginning.
Among the early praise for the novel:
Fresh Kills is an interesting hybrid, a well-written, fine-quality literary novel wrapped in the thriller genre. The thriller drive--a noir tone, cheap apartments, leather jackets and pistols kept in handy places--pulls the reader through a search for a killer, and an examination of how an abusive father, even after death, can reach from the past and manipulate the life of a grown son.”
John Sandford, author of the bestselling Prey series featuring Lucas Davenport.

“The problem with a lot of first novels is that they start off impressively (often with a terrific opening sentence or first page) and then kind of disintegrate after that. It's easy to write a flashy introduction; harder to keep that pace going for the entire scope of a novel. Fresh Kills is the opposite situation. This book didn't start well, as far as I was concerned. I could happily go my whole life without reading another hard-boiled novel that begins with a tough- guy hero waking up with a hangover, in bed with a mysterious naked broad (somebody else's woman, no less) only to discover that there's been a murder and he's gotta solve it. Sounds like every other mystery story ever told. But Fresh Kills quickly expands past itself, blows away its limiting genre boundaries, and becomes a story of real psychological complexity and emotional realism. Everything about this novel is written with accuracy and honesty. The blue- collar setting of suburban Staten Island--a neighborhood where nobody ever seems to leave, and where people are still fighting out their grammar school battles decades down the line-- could not have been drawn more clearly; you can practically smell the landfill down the road (though you wouldn't want to). Our tough-guy hero, John Sanders, isn't a cop or a PI or a gangster, as it turns out, but just a bartender with a string of bad relationships behind him, trying to work out his place in the world. And the murder victim isn't just any local thug; it's John's detested father. In the end, the mystery isn't really so much a whodunit, but more a "what happened?" What happened in the Sanders family over the past thirty years to have turned this whole clan into corpses (living and dead). This is not so much a pulp novel as a story about a life liquefied by grief and violence. I believed every wave of aggression that ran through this story, as well as every delicately unspoken broken-hearted relationship. My only complaint about this book is that it wrapped itself up too quickly and neatly, as though the author suddenly felt he had to put a roof on this thing, and fast. This was the only Amazon Breakthrough novel that I wished had actually been longer. A story of this depth needs and deserves a slow, complex, roiling end--not a tidy one. My advice to the author is to let his next book take its own sweet, sad time.”
—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

“This novel is a wonderful anomaly: a thriller with a sensitive heart. When he learns that his father has been shot, 30-something John Sanders ("Junior") is furious. Sanders senior was a drunk who beat and belittled his son. Now Junior knows he'll never get revenge on the man who blighted his life. Junior is a cynical failure, a man who never aspired for more than his bartender job, whose lover has left him, and who is now bedding his old high school sweetheart although he knows she's committed to another man. The third woman in his life is his younger sister, Julia, who comes home from Boston to help bury their father. For most of this gritty tale, Junior careens from one drunken confrontation to another, trying to find his father's killer. The action plays out on the mean streets of Staten Island and its famous garbage dump, Fresh Kills, and the author evokes the particulars of lower middle class life with great understanding. The portrait of Junior's damaged personality is so subtly developed that he becomes a sympathetic character despite his faults, and his eventual, hard-won epiphany brings a gust of pleasure. Could this author be the next Dennis Lehane?”
Publishers Weekly
Read an excerpt from Fresh Kills, and learn more about the author and his work at Bill Loehfelm's website.

Bill Loehfelm is the Winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award; his work has also appeared in the anthologies Year Zero and Life in the Wake.

The Page 69 Test: Fresh Kills.

--Marshal Zeringue