In an interview last week, Chicago novelist Marcus Sakey said ideas for his books emerge from “sheer panic” and called the challenge of finding an idea to write about every day for a year “daunting.” When he does choose an idea to work with, however, you can be sure it’s a good one, and that his execution will do it justice.
In that same interview, Sakey cites his inspiration for the driving force behind his newest thriller, The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes, as coming from fellow Chicago author Sean Chercover. Apparently Chercover quoted Negro League baseball player Satchel Paige (1906-1982), who once said: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” Sakey explains, “I just took that and I thought, who would you be, if you didn’t know who ‘you’ was? …I really tried to keep that front and center, [that] this guy is literally inventing himself as he goes along.” The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes revolves around a man who finds himself nearly dead with no memory of himself or his life prior to that moment. As he finds clues to his identity, however, and learns more about the circumstances that left him mostly drowned on a beach in Maine, he begins to wonder if he is really capable of the acts others claim he has committed.
Normally I’m wary of amnesia as a plot device, mostly because it has been done so poorly elsewhere. In this book it works, however, in part because the reader relies on the viewpoint of a narrator who isn’t sure if he’s one of the good guys or not. He doesn’t think he’s the type of person who would have committed violence, but how much stock can you take in that feeling? Especially when you add in that he’s running from the law and being haunted by visions of something dark but ephemeral. Hayes is forced to rebuild his memories piecemeal, trying to guess what kind of food to order, what his laptop password might be, and learning surprising things about himself at every turn – like the fact that he knows Spanish. This creates a protagonist who doesn’t even know what useful items he has to work with in his “tool box” that might bring him the answers he seeks, and keeps the reader guessing what revelations are yet to come.
Known so far for his previous gritty Chicago thrillers (of which there are four, all excellent reads), Sakey moves the action to glitzy Los Angeles this time around. The California setting helps propel this book at a steadily accelerating pace and makes it a perfect summer release. (Although, really, I would read about sunny beaches all year long. I think there were a couple feet of snow on the ground when I did read it, come to think of it.) But don’t let the shiny outer surface fool you – beneath all the glamor, the characters in this novel are ordinary people, driven by ordinary motivations: love, ambition, fear, feelings of powerfulness and powerlessness. Where competing desires collide, the reactions ripple outward in ever-widening circles. Sakey delights in writing his characters into a corner, methodically cutting off every possible escape route. His villain, who we met in his previous book, The Amateurs, isn’t terrifying because of the violent acts he commits, but because of his utter unpredictability coupled with the ability to stay several steps ahead of everyone else. He’s a fairly indestructible baddie, so maybe we’ll be lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to meet him again in the future. Preferably not in a dark alley.
On a slightly tangential note, apparently there is some confusion about the title. Sakey has publicly promised in interviews and his newsletter that there are “no f@#&ing vampires in it,” and we can confirm his claim. I suppose in this book market “two deaths” in the title has to mean either zombies or vampires, but if it makes you feel better, I wasn’t even sure what the first death of Daniel Hayes was referring to until the last few chapters. So, for better or worse, there are no undead characters in this novel.
This book has already gotten some amazing reviews, most notably a message from Lee Child that makes you wonder if someone bought him a drink. All I can do here is add my voice to the chorus and urge you to run, not walk, to your nearest bookstore/website/dealer to get yourself a copy when it is released June 9th.
The interview referenced above can be viewed here: Chicago Live! with Kelly O’Connor McNees and Marcus Sakey
Our interview with Marcus Sakey can be viewed here: Five Minutes with Marcus Sakey
This book was reviewed from an advance copy sent by the author/publisher.