Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Toros & Torsos"

Craig McDonald's debut novel, Head Games, was selected as a 2008 Edgar® nominee for Best First Novel by an American Author.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Toros & Torsos, and reported the following:
My historical crime fiction novel Toros & Torsos, which also functions as a kind of noir love story, turns on recent scholarship arguing the murder of Elizabeth Short, the so-called Black Dahlia, was influenced by surrealist imagery.

I took the basic concept set forth by three nonfiction authors, and extended it forward and backward in time, pulling together other crimes and atrocities tied to the surrealist art movement to forge a mythic, grand conspiracy involving the surrealists.

One of the pieces of surrealist art that prompted the original Dahlia theorists is a photograph by Man Ray called “Minotaure.” The pose of the nude woman in the photo is eerily similar to the position of Elizabeth Short’s body when she was found on January 15, 1947. The photo crop at the model’s waist was replicated by Short’s cadaver in the sense that her torso was severed at the same point as Man Ray framed his image.

On page 69 of Toros &Torsos, the novel’s protagonist, crime fiction novelist Hector Lassiter, “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives,” is visiting the Hemingway house on the run up to the infamous 1935 Florida Key’s storm that remains the most powerful tropical disturbance to strike the U.S.

Hector has brought along Rachel Harper, a woman who will cast a long shadow across the rest of Hector’s life. Hector, Rachel and Ernest and Pauline Hemingway are splitting a bottle of absinthe. Earlier in the day, the body of a woman has been found gutted and stuffed with machine parts, suggesting another painting by surrealist Rene Magritte.

Rachel, fresh from Paris, describes Man Ray’s photo, prefiguring Elizabeth Short’s murder later in the novel and setting up the basic premise that will drive the rest of the tale:

Her voice a little raw from the liquor, she said, “It’s a nude woman’s torso, taken against a field of black. It’s the expanse of her body between her navel and shoulders. No head is visible — it’s cloaked completely in darkest shadow. Her arms are raised, like this.” Rachel raised her own arms over her head. “Like horns — the horns of the Minotaur, you know? The model’s breasts are the eyes of the bull, and the concave portion of her belly — the model is very skinny — is in heavy shadow, evoking the mouth and muzzle. Man Ray, using crops and shadows, has made this naked woman’s body suggest the head of the Minotaur.”
Read an excerpt from Toros & Torsos, and learn more about the author and his work at Craig McDonald's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue