Executive Times






2007 Book Reviews


The Blade Itself by Marcus Sakey








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Marcus Sakey’s debut novel, The Blade Itself, gives readers a suspenseful plot, interesting, though not necessarily complex characters, and an enjoyable reading experience. The title comes from Homer, “The blade itself inciters to violence.” There’s ample violence in this novel, and the thorough exploration of the consequences that follow our behavior. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 3, “No Luggage,” pp. 19-21:


On his last day, they gave him back his clothes. Traded state-issue Bob Barker slip-ons for size-twelve steel-toes, passed a bus voucher across the scuffed counter. Handed him his gold money clip and fifty dollars to put in it, a gift from the state of Illinois. Money to send him on his righteous way into life as an upstanding citizen.

He’d stood outside between two mean-eyed black women bitching about their bills and another newly released con he didn’t know and had no interest in meeting. Thinning trees flanked the long asphalt driveway. The rusted water tower with STATEVILLE neatly lettered sat at a different angle than he was used to. Above it, the sky was very blue, and very wide, and the fall air seemed alive with possibility. He’d closed his eyes and smelled it, just smelled, taking it deep inside.

His watch had run down, and the irony amused him in a bitter sort of way. After all, he’d lived the exact same day over and over again for seven years, two months, and eleven days. Up at five thirty, cell count, shower, lunch, rec in the yard, day room, dinner, cell count, lights out. Repeat two thousand times.

But when the yellow-striped Pace bus pulled up, no one had to un­lock the door before he could climb aboard. No chains rattled between his wrists. He took a seat near the front and stared out the windshield, let Stateville vanish behind him. Every faded billboard and dying tree looked fresh and clean.

He got off in Joliet and hiked half a mile to a chain steak house. The hostess smiled as she led him to a back booth, past soft padded seats and the smell of cooking meat. Conversations were low and civil. The tinkly music in the background sounded like a piano player had popped a handful of quaaludes before working his way through the Eagles’ back catalog. He ordered a twenty-dollar prime rib and three cold beers.

Every bite was bliss.

After he’d mopped up the last puddle of juice with the last piece of sourdough, he went to the bathroom. Fluorescent lights gleamed off white tile walls, and the bright sterility put him on edge. He turned on the water and began finger-combing his hair. There was no reason to hurry, and he took his time, smoothing the curls and sculpting the back. A couple of college kids in T-shirts came and went. An older gent in a dark suit strolled in, whistling to himself, and they exchanged a little nod in the mirror as the guy walked to the urinal. He let the man unzip, waited till his hands were busy with his dick, then he came up behind and bounced the old man’s head off the tile wall.

One crack was all it took.

Unconscious, the guy was hard to maneuver, but he hauled the limp body into the far stall and hoisted him up on the toilet. Took his thick billfold and leaned him against one wall, pants around his ankles and blood trickling from his temple. He closed the stall door, locked it, then crawled under the divider to the one next door. Stepped out, washed his hands, and left.

The state’s fifty dollars covered the bill and a tip with nine bucks to spare.

At a strip mall across the Street he used the guy’s Gold MasterCard for a pair of jeans and a cable-knit sweater, a suede jacket and a new watch. The prices were higher than he remembered. Two doors down he picked out half-carat diamond earrings and a necklace of cultured pearls. The salesgirl was a nice-looking blonde, maybe a little on the heavy side.

“Your girlfriend will love these,” she said as she wrapped them.

“Hope so. I’m kind of in the doghouse.” He passed her the American Express.

“Why’s that?”

“I keep making eyes at blondes.” He winked to let her know he was easy, not to sweat it. “Anybody tell you you’ve got a great smile?”

She blushed, and giggled, and forgot to ask for his ID.

At the Mobil station across the parking lot, a bored teenager loung­ing behind the counter sold him cigarettes and pointed toward the Me­tra. It was a beautiful day, and he took his time walking there, smoking and checking out the new models of cars as they whizzed by. They hadn’t changed as much as he’d expected. Funny, only seven years, but he’d half thought they’d be hovercars.

The Metra looked exactly the same, grimy tracks and clean trains, the seating double-stacked to pack in rush-hour commuters neat as a matchbook. It was only about three, so the train was less than half full. Four dollars and ninety cents bought a ticket to Union Station. He took a window seat and propped his boots on the row in front of him. The speed made a blur of the scenery, reds and yellows and oranges melting like candle wax.

An hour later, he stepped into the graceful halls of Union Station. Rush hour was beginning, and a crowd of commuters already pushed through the marble corridors. Clothes were different, and hairstyles. From a bench he watched the crush of everyday people. Everyone had a mobile phone to one ear, tiny things like something out of Star Trek. As they flowed complacently along, they whined into the phones about their little emergencies. Called home to say they were running late, not to wait for them. Glared at watches and sighed at the lost time.


At the Amtrak counter he used the old guy’s Visa to buy a ticket to St. Pete, Florida. No luggage. He smiled, walked around the corner, and threw the ticket in the trash, tossing all three credit cards in after it.

Then Evan McGann stepped out into a spectacular Chicago after­noon, two grand in jewelry in his pocket and a money clip filled with a righteous two hundred and twelve dollars—counting the remaining four the state had provided to bring him home.



Sakey is off to a great writing start, and will leave many readers of The Blade Itself begging for more.


Steve Hopkins, February 23, 2007



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the March 2007 issue of Executive Times


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