Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"This Wicked World"

Richard Lange published his first short story in 1994, in New Delta Review, and his story "Bank of America" was selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories of 2004. His acclaimed short story collection Dead Boys was published in the U.S. by Little, Brown in 2007, in Italy by Einaudi and in France by Albin Michel. Lange was the 2008 recipient of the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a finalist for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to This Wicked World, his debut novel, and reported the following:
This Wicked World is a crime novel set in Southern California. It’s the story of Jimmy Boone, former Marine, ex-con and onetime bodyguard to the stars. As the book opens he’s bartending at a joint on Hollywood Boulevard and trying to keep out of trouble. Of course, he can’t, and soon finds himself investigating the mysterious death of a Guatemalan immigrant. Bad craziness ensues as he crosses paths with a vengeful stripper, a vicious crime boss, a dog-fighting ring, a beautiful ex-cop and a homesick drug dealer and finds himself fighting for his own life and the lives of those he loves.

Page 69 is a confrontation between some of the bad guys in the book, one in which not everyone gets out alive.

There's a crash in the kitchen, a dirty pot settling in the sink, and the white guy flinches, snaps his gun toward the sound. He's breathing funny and sweating like he just ran a mile.

"What's that?" he asks sharply. "Who’s back there?"

"There’s nobody else," Eton says.

"Probably a fucking rat, huh?"

"I don't know, man. Maybe. Now, look…"

"You look," the black guy says, taking a sudden step into the living room. "You've got five minutes to pack a bag. Taggert's tired of your excuses. He's foreclosing on this place."

"You, too, twink," the white guy says to Virgil. "Hit the road."

"Wait," Eton says, his voice strangled into a pathetic whine. "Let me call my friend Olivia. You know her, right? She'll straighten this out."

Oh, yeah. Now Virgil remembers. Taggert is Olivia's boyfriend out there in the desert. She mentioned him on the phone once. Virgil is so nervous, though, he can't decide if this is good or bad for him.

"Nope. No calls, no bullshit," the black guy says. "Everything's been said and done."

The white guy darts over to Eton and jabs him in the chest with the barrel of his gun. "Pack! Your! Fucking! Bags!" he yells.

There's another noise, the old house popping in the heat like it sometimes does. The white guy backs off and looks up at the ceiling with bulging eyes, like he’s afraid something might drop on him.

"This isn't happening like this," Eton says. "Not to my nana's house." He stands, a chrome revolver clutched in his fist.

There’s lots of action like this in the book, but also lots of memorable characters, both good and bad. While always mindful of keeping the story moving, I also tried to put the reader inside these characters’ heads and let the characters explain why they do what they do. They’re all lost and lonely in their own ways, and I hope that even the worst of them will earn, if not your sympathy, at least your understanding.
Read an excerpt from This Wicked World and learn more about the book and author at Richard Lange's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue