Sunday, September 7, 2008

"Try Darkness"

James Scott Bell is the author of Try Dying and Try Darkness from Hachette/Center Street.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Try Darkness and reported the following:
Well, Mr. Marshall McLuhan may have has something there (about page 69 being indicative of the quality of the whole book). Certainly it applies to Try Darkness.

In this scene, my lead character, Ty Buchanan, goes to the fabulous LA mansion of land magnate Sam DeCosse. I wanted to recreate the feeling of Phillip Marlowe paying a visit to General Sternwood in The Big Sleep. In my series I like to show all the strata that is Los Angeles, from the fab wealthy to the stark poor.

In Try Darkness, Buchanan, formerly a high flying LA lawyer, is now living in a trailer on the grounds of Benedictine community. His law practice is down to seeing indigent clients who drift into a coffee house, The Ultimate Sip, run by a former philosophy professor who went nuts.

One day a woman with a six year old child comes to see him. She's being illegally evicted from a downtown hotel. Buchanan investigates and finds out the hotel is part of the holdings of Sam DeCossse, who is being represented by a partner in Buchanan's old law firm.

Then the woman is murdered at the hotel. Buchanan finds the little girl hiding in the rec room. He takes charge of her, as she has no last name, no family.

With the help of the basketball playing nun, Sister Mary Veritas, Buchanan searches for the killer…who just may be after the little girl, too.

Page 69 captures the feel of the book and series. I'm combining two forms here: the classic PI novel of the Hammett/Chandler variety, and the modern legal thriller. Buchanan does not spend all his time at law or in the courtroom. Much of the time he has to be his own investigator.

In this scene at the mansion, he is greeted first by Devlin, the muscle bound personal assistant to Sam DeCosse. Of course there will be trouble between these two.

Devlin says before he can let Buchanan in, he has to pat search him:

"Excuse me?"

"We have to be careful."

"So do I," I said. "I won't be patted by anyone I'm not engaged to."

The squint got squintier. "Sir, it's just a standard pat search."

"And this is just a standard 'You're not going to touch me,' pal. Deal with it."

For a moment he looked like he wanted to deal with it. Personally. But before he could, a voice said, "That won't be necessary."

In front of the door stood Sam DeCosse.

I love LA noir and the whole feeling that something bad can happen at any time, even in the toniest parts of town. Maybe, especially there.
Read an excerpt from Try Darkness, and learn more about the book and author at James Scott Bell's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue