Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"Defending Jacob"

William Landay is the author of the novels Mission Flats and The Strangler. The first won the Dagger Award as best debut crime novel. The second was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award as best crime novel of the year.

Landay applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel Defending Jacob, and reported the following:
This is a difficult question to answer without giving away an important plot point, so I’ll have to be a little vague here. It is May 11, 1950, in Lowell, Massachusetts. A salesman named Rusty Barber has come to call on Birke’s clothing store to show the new line of Mighty Mac winter parkas. After the sales call, Rusty stops for lunch at a hot dog place he liked called Elliot’s. Then this:
As he left Elliot’s, there was an accident. A car swiped the front of Rusty’s Buick Special as he crept out of the parking lot. There was an argument. A shove. The other man produced a knife. When it was over, the other man lay on the street, and Rusty walked away as if nothing had happened. The man stood up with his hands pressed to his belly. Blood seeped through his fingers. He opened his shirt but held his hands over his stomach a moment, as if he had a bellyache. When the man finally pulled his hands away, a slick coiled snake of intestines drooped out of him. A vertical incision split his stomach from the pelvis to the bottom of the chestbone. With his own hands, the man lifted his intestines back into his own body, held them there, and walked inside to call the police.
Again, I can’t say much more about that incident for fear of giving away too much. Defending Jacob is woven pretty tightly. It's hard to pull out one page without unraveling a lot more of the plot.

But I will say that this scene grows out of my experience as an assistant D.A. My first assignment was in Lowell, a great community where Elliot’s and Birke’s were real places. (Elliot's is still going strong and I highly recommend it. Order a hot dog "all around." You won't be sorry.) And the stabbing described in this scene is based on an incident that occurred while I was there — a man gashed across the belly, forced to hold his intestines inside by holding his hand over his belly, pressing it closed, while he was driven to the emergency room. As for the salesman, well, it was my own grandfather who sold Mighty Mac parkas to old stores like Birke’s all over New England. As a writer you grab what you can from any source available, your own history or the lives of others, and you spin it into your story.
Learn more about the book and author at William Landay's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Strangler.

--Marshal Zeringue