Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gabriel Cohen's "The Ninth Step"

Gabriel Cohen's books include the Edgar Award–nominated Red Hook. He has written for the New York Times, Poets & Writers Magazine, and many other publications. He lives in Brooklyn.

Cohen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new novel, The Ninth Step, and reported the following:
The Ninth Step, my fourth Jack Leightner crime novel, is coming out on May 25. I was glad to see what came up on page 99 for two reasons.

On that page, my protagonist, NYPD homicide detective Jack Leightner, and his partner Richie are talking to a Homeland Security agent named Charlson about a humble murder in a Pakistani deli in Brooklyn. Charlson informs them that their case may actually be connected to an incident in which pirates hijacked a ship in the Middle East. Here’s a snippet:
Richie interrupted. “Why wouldn’t the ship’s owners just go in and take it back by force? You said they were connected to the military, right?”

“Very simple: if the pirates were attacked, they could sink the ship. The potential loss might be much greater than the ransom demand. It’s a difficult problem.” Charlson sat back and steepled his hands together again. “Now, incidents like this are practically routine in the gulf—they get hundreds of pirate attacks every year. But what happened next was not routine. Not at all. While the Iranians were trying to decide what to do, the Somalis went poking around the cargo containers, just out of curiosity. After several days, some of them started to get very ill. They lost their hair and got mysterious skin burns. And then they began to die off, one by one.”

Jack whistled. “That wouldn’t be radiation sickness, by any chance?”
First, The Ninth Step is different from the other books in the series because it plays the mundane realities of daily life in Brooklyn against a wider international picture—it has a bit of a thriller element.

Second, it contains four fascinating real-life stories. Aside from this bizarre piracy incident in the Gulf of Aden, the story also deals with what happened to Pakistani-Americans in Brooklyn post 9/11, when the “War on Terror” devastated a whole thriving community. And another investigation in the book takes Jack back to his childhood in Red Hook and explores the world of the Italian mafia there in 1965—where, for example, the loan-sharking Gallo brothers briefly kept a lion in their basement and told their debtors to “go down and talk to Leo.”

Last but not least, I used one of the most amazing real stories I’ve come across in 26 years of freelance journalism. Back in 1943 a fully loaded munitions ship caught fire in New York harbor. If it had exploded, it would have taken out other munitions ships docked nearby, and the resulting shockwave would have flattened a number of New Jersey port towns, as well as the northern tip of Staten Island and the southern end of Manhattan. It could have been the greatest disaster in human history, if not for the incredibly brave efforts of a little band of local firemen, dockworkers, and Coast Guardsmen. This is all true! (I interviewed an 88-year-old former Coastie who was there that day, and made his story part of my book.)

It was a really fun challenge for me to weave these real tales into my fictional present-day world, and to make them emotionally significant to my characters.
Learn more about the author and his work at Gabriel Cohen's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Graving Dock.

My Book, The Movie: Red Hook.

--Marshal Zeringue