Saturday, March 1, 2008

Steve Hockensmith's "The Black Dove"

Steve Hockensmith is the author of the novels Holmes on the Range, On the Wrong Track, the newly released The Black Dove, as well as numerous short stories. Holmes on the Range, the first novel featuring Big Red and Old Red, was a finalist for the Edgar, the Anthony, the Shamus and the Dilys Award.

Hockensmith applied the "Page 99 Test" to The Black Dove, and reported the following:
Well, I don’t know what Ford Madox Ford would’ve thought -- somehow I doubt he was a fan of mysteries, and mysteries starring squabbling cowboys would’ve been a real stretch for a guy like him. But hey, maybe he would’ve found something to like on page 99 anyway. I know I kind of dig it.

Here’s the first paragraph:

The street emptied out onto a bigger, busier thoroughfare running at a slant -- Columbus, most likely. Which put us a stone’s throw from the corner of the Coast called “The Devil’s Acre.” You’d have plenty of reason to throw stones there, too, for you could hardly take two steps without someone trying to rob you, kidnap you, or just kill you for a giggle. It was the kind of place even the police wouldn’t go without a rifle squad and a priest at the ready.

Right there you (hopefully) get a feel for the gritty setting (1893 San Francisco, actually) and the narrator’s way with words. Over the next few paragraphs, the situation becomes more clear, too: The heroes are trying to follow a mysterious old man through the streets of Chinatown only to have him duck into a building with a pair of menacing “lugs” loitering out front.

It was obvious who they were because they wanted it obvious.

The newspapers would’ve labeled them “highbinders” or “hatchet men.” In less colorful language, they were hired guns for the tongs. Or, to be even plainer still, killers.

The old man breezed right between them without so much as a nod in their direction, scuttling up the steps they were guarding and disappearing through the door beyond.

End of chapter! I know it’s not exactly Raiders of the Lost Ark, as far as cliffhangers go, but I do think it establishes a nice aura of exotic menace.

Is “the quality of the whole” revealed? Not really. There are other pages that are more funny and more exciting and more poignant, too. But the appeal of the whole comes through, I think. If you like what you see on page 99, odds are you’ll like the book.

And if you don’t like it ... well, maybe you’re Ford Madox Ford. In which case, I suspect it’s not for you anyway.
Read an excerpt from The Black Dove, and visit Big Red's blog to learn more about Steve Hockensmith and his writing.

The Page 69 Test: On the Wrong Track.

My Book, The Movie: Holmes on the Range.

--Marshal Zeringue