Friday, February 11, 2011

"Eyes of the Innocent"

Brad Parks’s debut, Faces of the Gone, became the first book ever to win the Nero Award and Shamus Award, two of crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His second book, Eyes of the Innocent, just released from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books. Library Journal gave it a starred review, calling it “as good if not better (than) his acclaimed debut.”

Parks applied the Page 69 Test to Eyes of the Innocent and reported the following:
Oh, Page 69 Test, how cruel you are. I have applied you to my latest work, Eyes of the Innocent, hoping you would catch me in the middle of some adrenaline-soaked action sequence, some breathless romantic scene or, heck, at least some decent dialogue.

Instead, oh vicious Page 69 Test?

You exposed me.

You shamed me.

You caught me monologuing.

Yeah, I stole that line from the Disney movie , The Incredibles. In that animated classic monologuing is what comic book villains cannot resist doing just when it seems like they are about to put away a hero – thus allowing the hero to escape and win in the end.

And while my intrepid protagonist, Carter Ross, is supposed to be one of the good guys, monologuing is, nevertheless, a perfect description for what he’s doing on Page 69.

To set the scene, Carter, an investigative reporter for The Newark Eagle-Examiner, has just discovered an article he has filed contains a blatant falsehood. A source, Akilah Harris, has lied to him about being an orphan, which leads Carter to wonder what else she might be lying about. Yet because the story contains a section about the dangers of space heaters – one of the executive editor’s favorite subjects – the paper is going to run the story anyway.

And while on most of the other pages of Eyes of the Innocent I would never let Carter go on like this – in what is essentially a self-indulgent rant – on Page 69 I just couldn’t seem to stop him.

Hence, Carter’s ranting manifesto…
(Page 68)

I took a great deal of pride in getting a story right, or at least trying my damndest at it. It went straight to the core of perhaps my deepest journalistic value: that the truth exists, and that it’s my job as a reporter to find it.

I realize that flies in the face of the moral relativism that has become so popular on campuses and in high-falutin’ big-think

(Page 69)

magazines, where the professors and editors will have you believe there is no such thing as the truth, only stories told from different perspectives. They’ll tell spin that marvelous bit of post-modern logic that says there are no absolutes and therefore we cannot possibly judge anyone else’s beliefs. And they’ll tell you journalists are hopelessly flawed creatures incapable of escaping their own innate biases long enough to ever approach anything resembling impartiality.

To which I reply: Fiddle faddle.

I’m not saying finding and telling the truth is a simple task. It takes a great deal of hard work, intellectual honesty, open-mindedness and a willingness to keep listening to people even when your gut is telling you they’re full of it. Then it involves drilling through the layers one’s cultural assumptions and prejudgments, all the way down to the mushy middle of all of us, where I believe there’s a basic humanity that tells us what’s right and what’s wrong. If we as writers apply that code – without the anchors of agenda or ideology – we can lift our prose to something that can be called the truth. It’s the very best of what journalism can and should be.

So to have a story running under my byline that I knew was suspect? It made my guts twist. I never wanted to be one of those writers who skimped on the facts simply because they got in the way of a good story. And it pissed me off that’s what I was going to look like if Akilah’s story blew up in our faces – all because of Brodie and his spaceheater vendetta.

I went back to my desk, pondered what I might do with what remained of my evening, but couldn’t bat down my ire at the executive editor. Really, the man had left me only one option: go to McGovern’s and get drunk enough to start making bad decisions.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Brad Parks website and Facebook presence.

The Page 69 Test: Faces of the Gone.

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

--Marshal Zeringue