Marcus Sakey: The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes

Marcus Sakey’s strengths as a writer are many, and all are on display here. This may be the strongest entry yet from this gifted suspense writer (though I still have a real soft spot for At the City’s Edge). His ability to set a hook is first up. In this book, the main character finds himself almost drowned on a Maine beach, freezing, alone, and without his memory. Luckily he climbs into a nearby BMW, cranks it up to get warm, finds some clothes that seem to fit, and he takes it from there.

Much like Anne Perry’s great creation, William Monk, who has amnesia but whose memory comes back only in flashes, Daniel Hayes is in the same boat, though the memories that return to him are far more pleasant than Monk’s. For the most part, anyway. Perry’s Monk is a policeman, and it’s his skills as a detective that help pull him through life. Sakey’s Hayes turns out to be a writer, and the author brilliantly uses this skill to help his character figure out what to do next. There’s nothing better than when an author uses the character’s actual strengths in a believable way.

I’m sure this was a tricky book to write, but Sakey sure makes it look easy. He frequently shifts points of view, and the memories that come back to Daniel are frustratingly close – both for him, and for the reader. It makes for a real mind bender of a read. As a reader you’re trying to evaluate the people and situations he encounters with only the information given to Daniel himself.

As Daniel finds money in the BMW he decides it must be his, and he checks into a motel, but eventually he’s somehow drawn back across the country. He ends up in Los Angeles, which feels like home to him. Unfortunately when he gets home it also becomes apparent that he was married, but that his wife is dead, and he is suspected of killing her. His wife had been a fairly well known television star, so her death is receiving a lot of scrutiny.

It would be almost criminal to give away much more of this clever plot, because you really should discover the twists and turns for yourself as you read. But it’s not giving anything away to say that Daniel is one of Sakey’s better characters. He’s well drawn and believable, and the emotional depth the author is able to give him makes the book a very moving one.

Like many top notch suspense writers, Sakey is never afraid to kill off a character, even a sympathetic one. This is harder to do than killing someone unpleasant, and some authors just won’t do it. The ones that are able to do this seem to have a real clarity of vision, painful as their stories sometimes are.

Sakey’s strengths – the hook, the cool main character, and the narrative that just won’t stop being a surprise – are matched by his prose. Again, he makes it seem effortless, but it’s the best kind of clean, muscular American prose that not every suspense writer is capable of. It certainly sets him apart.

The thoughtfulness he brings to the explication of memory, desire, love and loyalty that he brings to the story as a real part of Daniel’s quest only add to its depth. As one of Daniel’s friends tells him, “life is a raindrop.” Like this book, it seems like a simple aphorism, but is also endlessly complex.