Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Through the Cracks"

Barbara Fister's mysteries include On Edge and In the Wind.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Through the Cracks, and reported the following:
Through the Cracks grew out of two issues that were on my mind: the human stories behind exonerations and the anger and anxiety that infuses the current immigration debate. I decided to weave both of these into a story about the victim of a racially-charged rape case after the man she thought was responsible had his conviction overturned; I paired it with a contemporary case of an undocumented Mexican gang member arrested for the murder of a missing woman. In both cases, race influences both public opinion about crime and the workings of the criminal justice system.

On page 69, we meet the detective who investigated the 1986 rape case. Anni Koskinen, the private investigator hired by the victim to find out whether her rapist has gone on to commit more assaults, has learned the detective retired after being involved in a fatal shooting and is working as a building manager in Lincoln Park. She tracks him down in his basement apartment.
He was unshaven and bleary-eyed, dressed in wrinkled chinos and faded Cubs sweatshirt. His gray hair was tangled and stood up in uneven wisps. The room smelled of stale food and unwashed clothes.

“I’m looking for Jerry Pozorski.”

“Yeah? Whatcha want?”

“I’m sorry. Did I wake you up?”

“If you’re looking to rent, call the number on the sign outside,” he said. A calico cat crept past his legs to sniff the air in the corridor. He nudged it back with a foot. His sock had a gaping hole in the heel.

“I’m not looking for an apartment. I need to ask you about one of your cases.” I handed him one of my cards. “My client suggested I talk to you. Could I come in?”

He blinked at my card. Behind his legs I saw a tabby kitten with big ears peeking at me. “What client?” he asked. This time I caught the smell of bourbon on his breath.

“Jill McKenzie. You investigated an assault against her in 1986. I’ve been going through your case files; you did a good job. But as you know, the case has been thrown out, and there have been more recent assaults that may be related. It would be very helpful if I could talk to you.”

He bent to scoop up the calico as it started to wander into the hallway, then turned unsteadily and walked into his apartment, the tabby kitten scampering in front of him. I started to follow him, catching a glimpse of a recliner and a coffee table crowded with bottles and fast food containers, but had to step back quickly to avoid getting hit by the door as he slammed it behind him.

I knocked again, but the only response I got was the sound of a bolt being fastened.
This passage is fairly typical of the book. I'm more interested in the effect of crime than in crime itself. So often sexualized violence against women is the animating spark of much popular crime fiction; female characters are introduced expressly to be victims; they're barely on the page, except to be brutalized and avenged. Though I take seriously the reader's expectation that a mystery will provide an entertaining story, the last thing I wanted was to use rape as a convenient frame for a duel of wits between a detective and a clever criminal. Instead I focus on the lives of the women who have had to confront their fears, on the detective who wants a second chance to get the case right, and on the exonerated man who is trying to reenter a society, but who finds he can't get a job because he was in prison, but isn't eligible for convict re-entry programs because he was innocent.
Learn more about the author and her work at Barbara Fister's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: In the Wind.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue