Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Lake Charles"

Novelist Ed Lynskey writes the Private Investigator Frank Johnson mystery series, including this year’s The Zinc Zoo where Frank moves to the big city and lives with his lady friend Dreema before big trouble ensues, yet again.

Lynskey applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Lake Charles, a standalone Appalachian noir set in the 1970s, and reported the following:
Page 69 comes up at a pivotal scene where Mr. Kuzawa, a Korean War vet, is speaking to Brendan Fishback, the 20-something protagonist. Cobb, Mr. Kuzawa’s only son and Brendan Fishback’s best friend, was killed earlier. Then Brendan phoned Mr. Kuzawa to get some aid against an unknown foe, the one responsible for Cobb’s gory murder.

Brendan also suspects the foe kidnapped his twin sister Edna. Here we listen in at Brendan and Mr. Kuzawa notching out the hard objectives to their mission to be performed on the jungled banks of the TVA-built Lake Charles.

Their dialogue is kept terse, gritty, and idiomatic. For the first time, we also hear Mr. Kuzawa call Brendan “son,” and the more frequent use of the word begins to suggest it’s more than mere a habitual figure of speech.

The use of Lake Charles also touches on its noirish symbolism as a dreary spot where nothing much good happens to our heroes. Mr. Kuzawa is toting a 12-gauge shotgun, a tip off that more bloody violence bristles in the offing. In fact, Brendan fears their escalating scope of violence and preaches restraint and caution.

This comes after he has taken care of Cobb’s killer. In turn, Mr. Kuzawa only gives vague assurances that everything will be okay. Then he mentions the availability of a militia group (“the rangers”) led by Cullen, evoking the cussed, independent streak of the local populace. The rangers are a volatile, unpredictable force that Brendan says he wants no parts of, but will he refuse their help when the chips are down?

Of course, the rugged masculine image isn’t complete without the inclusion of cigarettes and smoking. The simile of the Six Million Dollar Man is a 1970s pop culture reference (an over-the-top TV show starring Lee Majors), one of a number different references in the narrative and anchoring it to that era.

At the end of the passage, Brendan introduces the old pressmen’s strike at Longerbeam Printery in their hometown of Umpire, TN, that only ended with bitter resentment and simmering grudges. The strike will later play a big role in resolving the noir’s conflicts.

Page 69:
“Did this big bug kidnap Edna?”

“She vanished from the same area, and I found her barrette lying in their campsite.”

“Don’t let it drive you nuts, son. We’ll soon evacuate her.” He chambered a 00-buckshot load into his 12-gauge.

As we took off again, I forced a self-deprecating chuckle. “I feel ridiculous marching through the boonies armed like two vigilantes.”

“We’ll be the rangers.”

“No-no, uh-uh. We’re nothing like them,” I said, knowing their leader Cullen didn’t let rational thinking govern his often rash actions. We had to be smarter than he was.

“We’re not near the campsite, are we?” asked Mr. Kuzawa.

“Two hours walking. You know, I fixed Cobb’s killer. He’d no I.D. on him, but he’s dead.”

“A commendable action and you’ve my thanks, but this big bug gave the orders. So now I’ll go squash the big bug.”

“Kill him?” I arched a hard glance at him.

He gave me a nod. “I’m trembling to explode with rage, and I can’t pull out even if I tried. Are you with me or not?”

“All right.” I waved at him to press on. “I’m behind you.”

“That’s all I wanted to hear from you.”

Lake Charles was our visible landmark as we crossed a hilly pine forest.

Soon the trunks and boulders clarified in the gathering daylight, and a great horned owl, all wings, swooped down at us. Mr. Kuzawa laughed at my cowering. The laurel branches slashed at our pumping thighs, and skirting the boulders slowed our progress. At last, Mr. Kuzawa gave a shout.

“Whoa, Brendan. Take five, son. Going at this clip, I’ll keel over from a coronary.”

“Blame it on the elevation.” I bent over at the waist, bracing my hands on my knees, my lungs also a wheezing bellows. “The oxygen runs thinner up here.”

“Uh-huh. Never mind I don’t look a day over fifty-five or your pack-a-day habit.”

“Don’t slam my cigarettes. Their tar counteracts the ink fumes eating away at my lung tissue.”

“Sure, you’re the Six Million Dollar Man.” Mr. Kuzawa shrugged back his bullish shoulders. “Is there less backstabbing at work? Cobb didn’t seem to think so.”

“Things could always be better. Brothers still don’t speak but the past three years we’ve done well enough to turn a profit and get our annual bonus. You’ve got to like that.”
Read the first chapter of Lake Charles.

Visit Ed Lynskey's Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Lake Charles.

--Marshal Zeringue