I'll tell you just about everything I love about crime fiction can be found in the novel Good People by Marcus Sakey. Bare bones it's not an unfamiliar tale. Tom and Anna Reed, a Yuppie couple strung out on debt and Anna's desperate and expensive dependence on a fertility clinic to help her produce the miracle she wants, rent out the bottom half of their Chicago house to a strange and frequently surly man.
One day they find him dead of natural causes. But that's not all they find. He had concealed $400,000 in cookie jars, cereal boxes and other kitchen hiding places. After much deliberation they decide to keep it. They will be debt free and Anna can afford more treatments at the fertility clinic.
What they don't know is that the money was part of a robbery. Two people want it. Jack, a psychotic career criminal whose younger brother was murdered by one of the robbers in a double cross (I was thinking Richard Stark here); and Malachi a drug dealer who was humiliated by Jack in the course of the robbery while he was delivering a huge amount of coke. The dealer wants his coke back and a chance to kill the robber.
That's the set-up. As I said, nothing shiny new. But man Sakey is a writer's writer. Not only is the book polished to a razor-edge it's also filled with flashes of insight that jar you. The opening pages describing the robbery are so well laid out and detailed you want to memorize them. The suspicious cop who knows they took the money is ultimately just as morally corrupt as everybody else in the book, a very interesting portrait of a cop. And the robber Jack is Satan's nightmare.
His scenes of violence made me hurt along with the victims. They're that vivid.
Then we have the marriage of Tom and Anna. Neither of them are especially likable. I say that not because they're villains but because they're weak in the way real people are weak. It's sort of embarrassing to read about yourself. They are at the point in their marriage where everything turns into a debate and debate into anger, especially on Anna's part. Her obsession with having a baby is sympathetic at first but, for me, anyway, becomes irritating. Tom wants to adopt but she says no. Period. But Tom isn't a exactly a great mate, either. He's one of the self-absorbed boy-men America seems to produce by the millions. It seems natural that he's in advertising. But it's their failings that are fascinating. No Dr. Phil for these two thank God. They're terrified people (terrified well before they decide to take the money) and settled into battering each other over their mutual helplessness. No need to call for more troops. They're doing just fine.
As a suspense novel it's exemplary. This is one of those books that involves you to the point where you start talking to the characters, saying do this or for God's sake don't do that. Where you physically writhe as Sakey twists every drop of blood from his suspense scenes. You want to see how a master creates a suspense story? Here you go.
I guess this didn't win an Edgar. Maybe somebody could explain to me why not. I came to Sakey late but having just finished one of the most cunningly conceived and executed suspense novels I've ever read, I sure plan to read more of his stuff.