Marcus Sakey writes my favorite subgenre of leisure fiction – the elevated airport thriller. An airport thriller is an entertaining action/thriller novel that you would find in paperback form in any American airport. The elevated airport thriller has more panache than the average entertaining read. In The Blade Itself, Sakey gives the reader characters with depth and some hold-your-breath moments, and he does it with flair.
“Everybody always goes down on the last job. You know why? Because if they don’t go down, they do another.”
The Blade Itself is set in Chicago and centers around a handful of men and women who grew up toeing the line of legitimate and illegitimate lines of business. Danny, the protagonist, has mostly gone civilian after some time in and out of incarceration. He was usually the brains of operations and seemed to have saw earlier than his friends where his life of crime would ultimately lead. Evan is Danny’s literal partner in crime, and Patrick is their good-natured boyhood friend. Sakey writes that Danny’s “whole crew had wandered the city like young lions, thrilled and a little surprised by the ferocity of their own roar.”
The story begins when Evan gets out of prison and looks for Danny’s help in a big job. Danny has been working as a construction project manager for a few years, moved out of the old neighborhood, taken up with a cool girl, and is less than enthusiastic about jumping back into his old life.
While the setup and plot may be standard fare, what I really enjoy about Sakey’s approach is the lyricism and depth of character in his writing. Within a few pages I can usually associate everyone with a particular actor or person I know. The people and relationships feel real. There’s also some interesting sociological stuff; Bureau of Justice Statistics are cited, as are some worldview differences between blue and white collar families. The following snippets of his writing will help you see if Sakey is for you:
“Danny pictured Terry, that weasel mustache, the moist stink of a habitual farter.”
“A shovel-faced bartender poured their shots while he yelled at his granddaughter to change the damn music before it attracted yuppies.”
“Ruby drops of blood fell to the hardwood floor. They were strangely pretty.”
The Blade Itself is a good leisure read, and it was Sakey’s first published novel as far as I know. I would recommend The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes or Brilliance as an introduction to the author and then move to this one if you’re a completionist.