Sunday, November 8, 2020

"A Dangerous Breed"

A native of Seattle, Glen Erik Hamilton was raised aboard a sailboat and grew up around the marinas and commercial docks and islands of the Pacific
Northwest. His novels have won the Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Magazine Critics awards, and been nominated for the Edgar®, Barry, and Nero awards. He now lives in California with his family, and frequently returns to his hometown to soak up the rain.

Hamilton applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, A Dangerous Breed, and reported the following:
From page 69:
His name was Panni. For the purposes of our meeting, I was told to call him Mark if I had to say his name out loud. Hollis had said Panni would be more comfortable if we used aliases, and I was trying to make friends here. Panni was probably only a year or two out of grad school, finding his criminology degree of limited use in a low-level position in the Records department of the FBI’s Seattle branch office.

After another moment of reconnoitering the lily pads, Panni sat down on the bench beside me. While his jaw was so hairless that it might never have seen a razor, his embroidered skullcap bulged with long locks tucked beneath it.

“How do I know you’re not wearing a wire?” he said.

“You can check if you want.”

He thought about it. Maybe it had already occurred to him that if OPR, the Bureau’s version of Internal Affairs, were on to him, they would have busted him the moment he tried to leave the field office with confidential files.

“Never mind,” he said.

“And I’ll trust you, too.” The little receiver in my pocket hadn’t emitted the buzz alerting me to any cellular or two-way signals within a dozen feet. Panni wasn’t wired.

“I don’t know why we couldn’t go through our mutual friend,” he said, sitting next to me on the bench.

“Because our friend isn’t always available,” I said, “and if I need information quickly in the future, it’s better that you and I know each other.” I patted Panni on the back.

“I can’t do this a lot,” he said. I wasn’t sure if he meant logistically or emotionally.

“Let’s just take care of today.”

“So how do we . . .”

“You leave what you brought on the bench. Then you go to your car and find yourself a party.”

He frowned. “What about the rest?”

“It’s already in your pocket, Mark.”

He pressed his elbow against his North Face ski jacket and was rewarded with the crackle of paper from the folded envelope I’d placed there. His eyes widened.

“Happy New Year,” I said.
Not having heard of McLuhan's test, I was startled by how accurate a snapshot this passage made of the novel's tone, and of the personality of the protagonist, Van Shaw. Van is a reformed professional thief and former soldier. He balances a natural inclination for trouble with careful preparation and wry humor, not least towards himself.

In this scene, Van is making contact with a source of information and trying to set the man at ease. But he can't quite help teasing the nervous fellow, even while he keeps the transaction quick and to the point. Having confirmed his own safety, Van will have some fun.

As an example of the novel, it's a reveal for how I prefer scenes to be: fast-moving and letting the dialogue do the work whenever possible. Pace is crucial in thrillers. Having a first-person POV requires limiting some scenes to descriptions while Van is alone and prowling, but even so, those scenes are internal conversations that should be just as urgent as this exchange.
Visit Glen Erik Hamilton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue