Saturday, December 20, 2014

"The Convert's Song"

Sebastian Rotella is the author of Triple Crossing, which the New York Times Book Review named its favorite debut crime novel and action thriller of 2011, and the nonfiction book Twilight on the Line. He is a senior reporter for ProPublica, a newsroom dedicated to investigative journalism in the public interest.

Rotella applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Convert's Song, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my novel is actually a half page that begins Chapter 5. It marks lull in the action, and a turning point. In the preceding chapters, Valentine Pescatore, a U.S. private investigator based in Buenos Aires, has run into his long-lost friend Raymond, who in their youth in Chicago was a troubled singer and drug dealer. Raymond appears mysteriously in Argentina, saying he has cleaned up his act and converted to Islam. Days later, a terrorist attack devastates a shopping mall. Pescatore and his boss, Facundo Hyman, rush to the scene. The next morning, the police arrest Pescatore on suspicion of involvement in the attack. An FBI agent arrives to spring Pescatore, who causes a ruckus by sucker-punching an interrogator who roughed him up.

The page opens with a line I like: “’Persona non grata,’ the legal attache said.” The scene takes place in the office of Agent Tony Furukawa, the FBI attache at the U.S. embassy, a solitary veteran of expatriate life. He’s a decent, dedicated investigator, but run-ins with bureaucracy have made him pessimistic and grouchy. He’s worried he’s going to get kicked out of the country because of Pescatore’s antics. “They won’t let me be leeg-att in fucking Zambia. Thanks to you, pinche baboso cabron.” The exchange with Furukawa evokes some of the themes in the book about identity, rootlessness and exile. Pescatore asks the Japanese-American agent why he speaks Spanglish slang like a kid from the barrio. Furukawa explains that he’s from a Mexican neighborhood in Los Angeles. Like the other characters—the Argentine-Mexican-American Pescatore, or the French cop of Moroccan descent Fatima Belhaj—Furukawa is a product of cultural convergence, a born border-crosser, a man at ease in different languages and tribes.

For Pescatore, lying on a couch recovering from the Argentine police interrogation, the nearly empty embassy on a Saturday night is a refuge, a mother-ship. His life has been a tightrope walk between cop and criminal. Since resigning from the Border Patrol and taking this job in Buenos Aires, he has become more serious and professional. Raymond’s catastrophic appearance has pulled him back toward his past. He suspects Raymond had something to do with the terrorist attack and his arrest. Not for the first time, Pescatore has been mistaken for a bad guy. He’s been rescued by the good guys. He wants to help. But do they trust him? Will it last?
Learn more about The Convert's Song at the Mulholland Books website.

Writers Read: Sebastian Rotella.

--Marshal Zeringue