Saturday, May 11, 2019

"The Fourth Courier"

When Timothy Jay Smith quit an intriguing international career to become a full-time writer, he had a host of real life characters, places and events to inspire his stories. His first novel, Cooper’s Promise, in some ways is still the most autobiographical of his novels, though he was never an American deserter adrift in Africa. But he was in The Mining Pan bar and he did meet Lulay and he did stowaway on a barge that landed him in an African jail.

Now, in his third novel, The Fourth Courier, set in Poland in 1992, Smith looks back at the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, as witnessed through the eyes of an FBI Special Agent on assignment to stop a nuclear smuggling operation out of Russia. Smith’s newest book continues his style of page-turning thrillers steeped with colorful characters.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to The Fourth Courier and reported the following:
From page 69:
Of course he couldn’t exactly ignore her foot resting on his leg, nor entirely block from view her squirming toes. Her nails were painted cherry red, which he realized did make her feet attractive, certainly more attractive than the coarse lardy nails his wife hadn’t painted since their first anniversary. Oh, why not massage her foot? he decided. It might be fun, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d touched someone’s foot other than his own. Tentatively he wrapped his fingers around her arch and squeezed. “Is that where it hurts?” he asked.

“Oh yes… but harder…”

He gripped her foot tighter and massaged it with his thumbs. He found he rather enjoyed it; there was an unfamiliar sensuality to it, and as a plus, from his angle he could peek up her skirt to where her heavy legs disappeared in a dark shadow. Gradually his fingers migrated to her toes, which they worked vigorously, rooting down between them, and bending them to crack them. For the first time he understood why some people suck toes for sexual pleasure, and if his back had been more limber, he might have dared to bite hers.

Emma sighed. “I can tell you are professional. Yes... oh yes... ”

Suddenly the situation, and certainly his fantasies, seemed ludicrous to Sergej. He released her foot and said rather coldly, “I hope it feels better.”
By happy coincidence, page 69 falls right in the middle of one of my favorite chapters in The Fourth Courier. The set-up and many of its details are based on a train trip I took some forty years ago which made it fun to write. It’s also an important scene because it’s building on the reader’s understanding that Dr. Ustinov is so obsessed with sex, having been driven mad by what was required of him in a genetics engineering project, that he’s willing to take risks for sex—which he does for the first time only two pages later.

Two strangers—Dr. Sergej Ustinov, a genius Russian physicist, and Emma, a plump and lustful Russian-American on her way to visit relatives—by lucky chance have a first-class compartment to themselves in a train crossing Russia. While my real-life journey and the chapter in the book end differently, most elements are exactly the same: cans of soup fall out of Emma’s duffel; they share a greasy bag of dried fish; and complaining about her feet hurting, she drops a foot over Sergej’s thigh urging him to massage it. There’s a lot of humor in the chapter, and pathos, too. (Lina Wertmuller-ish for those who know her movies.)

I loved writing the character of Dr. Ustinov. While most characters in my books are based on people I’ve met, the mad Russian scientist is not. He’s definitely an important character and sympathetic. Readers will be rooting for him to get where he wants to go.

As he would say, “Ha!”
Visit Timothy Jay Smith's website.

Writers Read: Timothy Jay Smith.

My Book, The Movie: The Fourth Courier.

--Marshal Zeringue