Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Monday, March 27

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


Finally, Chicago has the starring role in this debut novel by Marcus Sakey. The Blade Itself, scheduled to hit bookstores in January of 2007, tells the story of Bridgeport native Danny Carter, a reformed thief who left the life of crime seven years ago when a robbery went sour and his partner, Evan, was sent to prison. Settled into his new life in Lakeview with his live-in girlfriend and a legitimate job in construction, Danny finally feels like he has left his former life behind. But when Evan gets early parole and forces him into one last job, Danny stands to lose everything he has worked so hard for. Danny's calculating personality will make sure nothing goes wrong, that no one gets hurt, but with Evan's warped moral code, it's hard to believe that anything could go right.

Chicago is as much a character in this story as Danny and Evan; it actively adds to the story, affecting the actions and characters. Sakey writes the city's neighborhoods with style, grit, and authenticity like only a true Chicagoan could. The art lies in the details, such as Bridgeport churches being converted to Buddhist temples or how the cheers from Wrigley Field sound from your back porch blocks away. Not afraid to talk about sensitive topics, such as class and gentrification, Sakey touches on the issues that are especially pertinent to Chicago. While Danny is living well on the North Side, Evan struggles on the South, representing the time-honored struggle between the haves and the have nots.

"It's a class novel disguised as a thriller," remarks Sakey, referring to the characters' blue-collar upbringing. Even though Danny and Evan were friends, went to the same school and grew up in the same neighborhood, they made decisions that took them in different directions. One will always be a criminal whose home will always be prison, while the other has worked hard to achieve something better. Learning about the characters' backgrounds, it's easy to see how a life of crime could come so easily, but it's their different values and morals that separates them in society.

Sakey utilizes point of view shifts, to show readers multiple perspectives. Each is told in close third person, but he also uses a lot of internal dialogue to get inside the characters' heads, creating more tension by revealing Evan's plans even though Danny is unaware. It also gives the characters layers: although Evan likes to give off the impression that he's just muscle, he is smarter and more calculating than he lets on, making him all the more dangerous. Although Danny seems perfectly honest and law-abiding, there is a part of him that misses his criminal past. Instead of telling readers these traits directly, Sakey lets the characters do it themselves through their interactions and internal dialogue. He's a puppet master that never lets you see the strings, giving his characters so much life that they seem real.

Marcus Sakey

The title was up for some debate, but St. Martin's settled on Sakey's original title, which stemmed from the Homer quote, "The blade itself incites to violence." When he came across the quote, it struck him as symbolic, especially in the opening scene when Evan brings a gun to the robbery. The simple gesture of Evan bringing the weapon is a precursor for violence, and the theme runs throughout the novel.

From the very beginning, Sakey knew he wanted to tell a rivalry story between two friends, and he began crafting the novel as an MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago. He studied under Patricia Pinianski, a long time author of romantic suspense who teaches suspense thriller and popular fiction writing, and was able to fully develop his characters and craft the narrative. Even with his knowledge of the city, the authenticity that Sakey brought to the novel could not be done without research. He shadowed Chicago homicide detectives, got the gruesome facts from a New York City medical examiner, and learned how to pick a deadbolt in 60 seconds. He didn't want to overlook details, and took the time to make sure everything in his novel was accurate, from the inner workings of police procedure to how a South Side bar looks at 4 in the morning.

While going to school and writing his novel, he was also working as an advertising copywriter, a job that had a huge effect on his writing. Besides giving him the experience "to write about thieves and killers", it taught him some of the professional basics that even many experienced writers have yet to master.

"Advertising is awesome training for writing. You can learn to be brief and you get comfortable receiving feedback."

Using the feedback from teachers and members of his critique group, he completed the final draft of The Blade Itself in less than a year, impressive for a first-time novelist. Novel writing can be an excruciating process, and even though Sakey had his moments, he wouldn't want to do anything else.

"I loved writing Evan," he recalls. "Evan is everybody's Id and it's so much fun letting that out. The only struggle was not taking him too far."

Although he claims that it was more difficult writing Danny, making him proactive without letting him win too easily, he managed to get inside Danny's head and create a realistic and intriguing character. He's loyal and works hard, which makes him relatable, but he can't hide from his criminal past; it's fascinating to see the two worlds collide.

Just six weeks after he began querying agents, Sakey signed with Scott Miller of Trident Media Group. After putting the final touches on the manuscript, Miller sold it at auction a short three weeks later. Sakey signed a two-book contract with St. Martin's Minotaur, and is truly living every writer's dream.

His success can be attributed to his marketing and promotional skills, but above all, it is because he is an exceptionally talented writer.

"Ultimately you are a novelist, not a book tour," states Sakey. "The best thing to do is write the best novel you can."

Since The Blade Itself was sold, it has created quite a buzz, especially in the world of mystery writers. Bestselling authors, such as Lee Child and George Pelecanos, have given the novel amazing blurbs, comparing Sakey to Elmore Leonard and Dennis Lehane. While he feels lucky to get such amazing feedback from such talented writers, he still feels weird being compared to the authors he spent so much time reading.

"While I was writing Blade, the three authors I was reading were Lehane, Leonard and Pelecanos." Although Sakey has his own distinguished voice, his knack for dialogue, passion for setting and well-crafted plot demonstrates the talent of a seasoned writer and illustrates that he learned from the masters.

Sakey recently finished his second book, also to be published by St. Martin's Minotaur, but he claims the whole thing still seems weird. When asked about the most surprising aspect of the writing gig, he responds, "That I can actually make a living at it." But with his talent, passion and intelligence, there is no doubt that he will do more than just make a living. Be on the lookout in January, because Sakey is going to change the face of Chicago fiction. As Ken Bruen states, "Boston has Lehane, D.C. has Pelecanos and now Chicago has its very own dark poet."

To read an excerpt of The Blade Itself, visit


About the Author(s)

Dana Kaye is a book critic, freelance writer and mystery author. Her work has appeared Curve Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Crimespree, Punk Planet, and Windy City Times. She lives in Andersonville where she is currently hard at work on her second novel.

GB store

Recently on Detour

A Tragic Day in Chicago
While most people see the weekend after Thanksgiving as a time to begin preparations for the December holiday season, this time of year is a painful reminder to some as the anniversary of one of Chicago's deadliest fires. Ninety-two students...

The Social Life of Our Urban Spaces
"Placemaking" comes to Chicago

Don't '&' Me, OK?
The ampersand gets Wenner thinking about the distinction between race and ethnicity.

Photo Essay: Transitions
Rearview contributers interpret the theme "Transitions."

People from the Rearview Archive
Gapers Block digs into the Rearview archive in search of portraits.

View the complete archive

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15