Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Good Junk"

Ed Kovacs has worked for many years as a private security contractor deploying to challenging locations worldwide. He is a member of AFIO, Association for Intelligence Officers, the International Thriller Writers organization, and the Mystery Writers of America.

His novels include Storm Damage and its recently released follow-up, Good Junk.

Kovacs applied the Page 69 Test to Good Junk and reported the following:
From page 69:
In the lounge, when Honey brought up his name, we were met by a roomful of very unfriendly stares, firmly establishing that Decon wasn’t the most popular guy in the mini-mall. A beefy guy told us Decon slept in a crypt at Greenwood Cemetery. I chalked that up to drunken bar talk, although it did remind me of the Jefferson brothers’ contention that Decon hung out in cemeteries. Shrugging at each other, Honey and I moved on.

To me the drinking establishments felt interchangeable; slightly seedy workingman’s joints with darts, video gaming, and pool tables. Lots of tattoos, trash talk, drug dealing, low energy, and way too many quarrelsome drunks.

I lit a mini cigarillo as Honey and I stepped back out into the sultry night, heat still radiating from the crumbling parking-lot pavement.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he lives within walking distance,” I said, looking over to the buildings on the other side of Interstate 10, no more than a few hundred yards away. “I don’t buy that he sleeps in cemeteries in New Orleans but drinks every night out here in Metairie.”

“Then let’s take a walk,” said Honey.

We circled around behind the mini-mall, surprised to see two more watering holes in a gravelly parking lot.

Different bars, same story. We soon found ourselves strolling into a so-so neighborhood of apartment buildings and multifamily dwellings.

“Check out those neon lights up ahead. Does that look like what I think it is?” Honey asked.

“Yep. Another bar. Wonder what the car insurance rates are in this neighborhood?”

We picked up the pace a bit, and Honey took my hand. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

I stiffened. Damn, does she know I pinched the laptop? How could she? I searched her eyes for a clue. “Possibly.”

She looked at me, waiting, then said, “Kind of strange, you coming out of Breaux’s bathroom. Wearing your backpack.”
Well, it seems we have my tough-guy hero, Cliff St. James, and his NOPD homicide detective partner, Honey, actively trying to run down a suspect on this page, so the plot is moving, and that’s a good thing.

A key clue to locating the suspect is given out in the first graph, but St. James doesn’t jump on it. St. James is far from perfect. He misses things, makes false assumptions, takes unwise risks that cause problems. I write him to be tough but soulful, and painfully human. Later, he will remember the cemetery clue and that will lead him to his prey. I find reading thrillers with heroes who never screw up to be one-dimensional.

The setting is an area in Greater New Orleans heavily populated with seedy bars. Perfect for the gritty tone of my NOLA set novels: “…crumbling parking-lot pavement…”; “…quarrelsome drunks…”; “…trash talk, drug dealing…” We’re in New Orleans, for sure!

In the last graphs, Honey gently, indirectly confronts St. James about an outrageous breech of police procedure he had earlier committed—and neglected to tell her about. This tells us a lot about Honey. First, it reinforces that she’s sharp; she’s no pushover. Second, it lets us know she has covered for St. James with the FBI. Here’s the subtext: she’s letting him know that she has his back, she’s giving him room to operate, but he should keep her informed.

So we have reinforcement of the gritty tone and setting, some plot development and clues, and character development through sub-text. Not bad.

There’s nothing on page 69 that hints at what the book is really about: St. James having to confront his guilt and come to terms with his use of violence, including lethal force. I can accept heroes in a thriller series who don’t think twice about killing human beings. In some series the hero never does think twice. But I wanted St. James to have to deal with it in at least one of my books, and it turned out that book was Good Junk. Publishers Weekly gave me a starred, boxed review, so hopefully I’m doing something right.
Learn more about the book and author at Ed Kovacs's website.

My Book, The Movie: Storm Damage.

The Page 69 Test: Storm Damage.

Writers Read: Ed Kovacs (December 2011).

Writers Read: Ed Kovacs (December 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue