Turning thrilling pages
with clenched fists

''The Blade Itself''
By Marcus Sakey
(St. Martin's Minotaur, 320 pages, $22.95)
Buy at Amazon

Reviewed by John Orr
January 2007

Fans of crime fiction can celebrate the new year with the debut of an astoundingly good writer, Marcus Sakey, whose first novel, ''The Blade Itself,'' is the terrifically engaging, poetically structured tale of a man both tortured and tempted by his criminal past.

Danny Carter is living a very good life for a kid who grew up poor and Irish in Chicago. He has a management-level job, a nice place to live and an absolutely wonderful woman, Karen.

But he sometimes still has nightmares about his last criminal job, when he and a friend, Evan McGann, robbed a pawn shop one night. McGann pushed their luck and big trouble happened. Carter walked away, but the crazy, gun-happy McGann stayed too long, shot someone, and ended up in prison.

Seven years later McGann emerges with jail-house muscles and more sociopathic tendencies than ever. Carter likes his old friend -- he notes his beer tastes better when McGann is around -- but wants nothing to do with the scheme McGann has planned.

But McGann is not to be denied, and makes his threats clear -- if Carter doesn't help him, Karen would be in danger, Carter's boss would be in danger. Carter can't just call the cops, because McGann is an old friend -- and one who still has the power to rat him out about the pawn-shop job.

So, Carter reluctantly helps McGann, hoping to protect people in the process.

It all quickly goes south -- people are murdered, a child is kidnapped and Carter's entire world is in danger in every way.

We like Danny Carter. Sakey keeps a lot of action buzzing along as we learn more about him, building our empathy for the guy while at the same time racheting up the tension to the point that we turn pages with clenched fingers.

There's no easy way out for Carter, but Sakey manages a satisfying ending.

Great stuff; here's hoping Sakey has more such novels in him.