Thursday, September 27, 2018

"Sunrise Highway"

Peter Blauner's novels include Slow Motion Riot, winner of an Edgar Allan Poe award for best first novel from Mystery Writers of America, and The Intruder, a New York Times bestseller. He began his career as a journalist for New York magazine in the 1980s and segued into writing fiction in the 1990s. His short fiction has been anthologized in Best American Mystery Stories and on Selected Shorts from Symphony Space. He has written for several television shows, including Law & Order: SVU and the CBS series, Blue Bloods.

Blauner applied the Page 69 Test to newest novel, Sunrise Highway, and reported the following:
You turn to page 69 in the hope you'll find some of your best writing, and a prayer that you won't find some of your worst. Instead, what's there is a decent random DNA sample that offers clues about the rest of the book. Two police officers, male and female, are at a roadside crime scene in September, 1982, looking at an abandoned Ford Escort The female driver has been found dead some distance away. But the twist here is that we already know that the male officer, one Joseph Tolliver, pulled the woman over earlier in the evening and is actively concealing from the female officer, one Amy "Half-Nelson," his intimate knowledge of what happened. Here's an excerpt from the page that begins Joey T assessing the threat "Half-Nelson" represents to him:
She aimed her pointy nose at him and cocked her narrow little pasty face at an angle. Man, you rarely saw a girl with ears that big. Most would have enough sense to grow their hair longer. It was almost like she was intentionally confronting you with the size of those flaps.

“Just a figure of speech,” he said. “I’m sure it didn’t happen in the middle of rush hour. Someone would have noticed.”

She held his gaze for a beat longer than she should have. Then looked back inside the car, the corners of her thin-lipped mouth turning down.

“Where were you patrolling last night anyway?” she asked.

“Down by West Babylon. Quiet night.”

He didn’t appreciate how she kept looking just to see the side of his face, like she was trying to see something behind him.

“And you didn’t see this car go by with a female driver?” Half-Nelson raised her eyebrows.

“If you’re not breaking the law, I’m not interested in you.” He shrugged.

Billy the Kid had come staggering over. Even more hungover than usual, and wearing his tinted aviators. The man was getting to be an embarrassment, but Joey wasn’t sure how much he might have seen. There was just enough detective left in him to sometimes know when to hang back and observe.

“What do we got, officers?” He patted his pockets for a notebook.

“Just maintaining the integrity of the scene for the big boys.” Joey nodded. “I hear CSU’s busy up the road.”

“Yeah, it’s ugly,” said Rattigan. “Poor woman taken from her car, beaten, raped, and strangled. Her clothes are torn off and her neck is practically broken. It looks like wolves attacked her.”

Joey cricked his neck, aware of how Half-Nelson was restlessly hitching up her belt and scratching a spot halfway down her throat. Like she had something she wanted to say in private. Joey put on his sunglasses to glare at her: I can see out, but you can’t see in.
If you've read the book up to that point, you know that it goes back and forth to converging periods of time. In its 2017 chapters, Joey T has become someone to be reckoned with both in society at large and in the immediate purview of the book's other main character, Detective Lourdes Robles - who would have been less than a year old in this Reagan-era scene. In a sense, this page 69 excerpt is both a crucial bridge to that bigger story and a harbinger of the ultimate confrontation between these two.
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--Marshal Zeringue