Marcus Sakey and the Combo Platter

Most of you reading this know him, or know of him.

Marcus Sakey

One of the myriad of Killer Year authors, which I guess needs to be known as "Killer Year 2007" because apparently, it’s a franchise now and there’s going to be a Killer Year gaggle every year.

Anyway, I’m not here to talk about that. I want to talk about Marcus Sakey. And I really hope this gets read by people who don’t know about him. If you’re already aware of Sakey, please forward this permalink to someone who doesn’t know about him.

So… Marcus Sakey. You’re probably thinking he’s my buddy, right? Because the only thing more common in the mystery community than a book with a dead body is pimping one’s friends.

But guess what? I’ve never met Marcus Sakey.

And I doubt he has any idea who I am, nor does he care. The first time I ever heard of him was at Thriller Fest last July. He was part of a panel that I was taking in. I’ve never even read his book THE BLADE ITSELF. Well, all of it, anyway. Let me explain.

I saw Sakey on this panel and I knew that he was a good writer. Very, very good. Just by listening to him. By hearing the way he talked about writing. See, the people who get it – who truly get writing, they talk about it differently than the rest of us, who are simply trying to convince people we know what we’re doing.

Afterward, I was mentioning my impression of Sakay to someone and one-thing-led-to-another and suddenly I had an ARC of THE BLADE ITSELF in my hand. At least I think it was an ARC. It was loaned to me. "Here, read it and give it back," the person told me.

I went to the Biltmore lobby and started reading. At page forty-seven, the person walked up and said, "I need that back. I’m not supposed to show it to anyone." So I never finished. Never even got to page forty-eight. And those that have been lucky enough to read the book, you know that page forty-seven is NOT where you want to stop reading!

After that, I checked out Sakey’s web site, read some Q&A’s with him, read his thoughts on writing, read a couple of excerpts from the book. And after all that and those forty-seven freaking pages, I knew that Sakey wasn’t just a great writer…

He has the combo platter.

See, there are great writers. And there are great storytellers. And every once in a very rare while, God looks down and hands the combo platter to someone. A great writer AND a great storyteller. You may think there’s a lot of them out there, but guess what – you’re wrong. And I know a few of you believe great storytelling is great writing and vice-versa… I used to think that, until I read each without the other.

Now, I love a good story. If it’s written well, or even just decently, I’ll go with it. But I also love reading great writers. Even if the story sucks, I admire the greats and their way with the language, the imagery, setting. The NYTBSL is packed full of great storytellers. And every so often a great writer manages to make the list as well.

But damn, when you come across someone with the combo platter, it is as good as it gets. And to find a new writer with the CP, well, I am just really, really excited.

Some of you might think I’m overstating, but… you’re wrong. You can cruise writer web sites and see how few great writers are out there, even fewer with the combo platter. Actually, most greats have little or no web site content. The writers with pages and pages of fancy 411 on themselves are usually not that great. They’re compensating. Just look at their "advice for aspiring writers" sections. It’s all rehashed bullshit, the same blatherings just reworded. Not that they’re not great people, now, but we’re talking craft. Art, even.

Oh, by the way, I’m including myself in all this. I am not a great writer. I think I’m a pretty decent storyteller, but I have a long way to go to be a great writer. And my stuff for aspiring writers – other than the Hollywood business part of it – is all rehashed bullshit. Hell, it’s pretty much all bullshit.

Anyway, look at some random writer’s advice pages. Then look at Sakey’s. Read some random to-be-published writer’s excerpt of his or her opus, then read Sakey’s. Look at his writing and storytelling – his use of the language, his dialogue, his ability to give vital character and/or story information without one extra word. Notice how visceral his telling of the story is. How he is able to keep his imagery so strong without ever being overpowering or overwrought.

And if you want a nice reality check, do what I did: after all that, look at your own stuff. Chances are huge that you’ll be like me, and realize you’ve got a lot of work to do. Unless you’re some full-of-yourself asshat. Then life is great all the time. Good on ya.

Do I sound a little angry in this post? I don’t mean to be. But maybe I am. I guess I’m a little jealous of Sakey’s talent… but actually, I’m not. I’m excited by it. I’m turned on by it. I’m inspired by it.

What it is, is I’m pissed off at myself. I know a large number of you don’t give a shit about great writing so long as the story works. And a lot of you can’t stand reading amazing prose if there’s no story to grab you. As stated, I can enjoy both. I guess it’s because the combo platter is so rare, that I’m used to settling as a reader. Taking what’s out there. So then, when I do find it – especially in someone without a dozen books under their belt – it makes me look in the mirror and think: perhaps if I had understood earlier, or worked harder, studied more, pushed myself more… maybe I could’ve had the combo platter.

But I doubt it. I think it’s even more rare for it to be learned, as opposed to a God-given gift.

Okay, let’s end this rant. Marcus Sakey. He’s not just another debut author, he’s something special, folks. If you don’t agree, guess what – you’re wrong. He’s got the combo platter, and in the coming years everyone’s going to realize it. I can’t wait for Left Coast Crime so I can buy the book and finish THE BLADE ITSELF. Yes, I know I can order it from Amazon, but I’m really trying to get off my Internet-induced-fat-ass and buy more from independents. Whether you buy from Ammy or an indy, buy THE BLADE ITSELF, and learn while you’re entertained.

Feel free to comment all you want about how great Marcus Sakey is, or what an asshat I am, or anything else specific to this post. But I’m asking you, no, I’m telling you, don’t start listing all the other authors you think have the combo platter. Save that for another post, or another blog. It would be disrespectful to Sakey and this post, and this blog. And I’m pissed off enough that I’ll probably just go in and delete them.


As always, Floyd Landis is innocent. If anyone knows an investigative journalist, please send them here.

24 thoughts on “Marcus Sakey and the Combo Platter

  1. Mike MacLean

    I’ve read nothing but good things about Sakey. So I checked out his site and found this gem of advice that spoke directly to me.

    …while it’s practically guaranteed that somewhere in the midst of your novel you’ll get an idea for a better one, resist the temptation. New ideas are the lace lingerie of writing, but novels aren’t made of one-night stands. Like any relationship, commitment is key.

    I’m sold. I’ll check him out. Thanks asshat. (And thanks for the new expression to throw around, never heard that one before)

  2. Bryon Quertermous

    Your posts always cut through the bullshit like a chainsaw through, well, bullshit. It’s so great.

    As for Sakey he is a fantastic talent and I say that as one who made it past page 47 of his ARC. That fucker just burns talent in that book. He’s also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.

    I hate people like that. I want to know that most talented people in the world are going to be complete assholes so at least I won’t be so jealous.

  3. David J. Montgomery

    Marcus Sakey has the goods. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.

    The first time I read THE BLADE ITSELF, I had to stop reading it. Had to put it down. The book was so intense that it was bothering me to read it. I was starting to get weirded out, thinking about it.

    The writing was so damn good, though, that I couldn’t not finish it. So a few months later, I started it all over again.

    I’m very interested to see what he does next.

  4. Philip Hawley

    I read the first chapter of Marcus’s book several months ago, while visiting his website. I immediately marked my calendar with the release date of THE BLADE ITSELF.

    If only Marcus were young and good-looking, he’d really have the complete package.

  5. Guyot

    Between Sakey, Hawley and Ellison, 2007 will truly be the Killer Year of all Killer Years.

    And for my money, the ONLY Killer Year. All that come after will never be the original, nor the best.

    Crap, I wish I had something coming out in 2007, so I could get free drinks by pretending to be as good as these scribes.

    Hey, if I get a show on the air before December 31st, can I be part of KY?

  6. Stephen Blackmoore

    Oh god. That last comment from Guyot just reminded how much alcohol I’m going to be buying at Thrillerfest this next year.

    I’m looking forward to reading this one. So many people telling me it’s too good to pass up.

  7. Elaine Flinn

    What timing! I ordered Sakey’s book yesterday between the Rosebowl floats and the commercials. 🙂

    Combo Platter. Terrific description – and aptly applied to Mr. Guyot as well – but more importantly-on a personal level: Whip-smart brilliant, generous to so many of us in this wacko biz, kind to small animals and a genuine family man. Often a pain in the ass-but an oh-so loveable one.

    With Guyot in Sakey’s corner -how can we not be too?

  8. JT Ellison

    You eclipse KY, Guyot.And Sakey is one of the nicest guys out there. The real deal. It’s intoxicating to know that the future of crime fiction has finally arrived.

  9. Robin Burcell

    I might have been standing next to Paul when someone was talking about Sakey. The comments that followed were the sort that made you think: I have to go look this book up when I get home. I read his first chapter. Damn. That’s all I can say. He’s one of those writers who, after you read him, make you wonder what ever made you think you could write in the first place.

    If I was a guy, I’d hate him. Since I’m a girl, I can just drool over him.

  10. spyscribbler

    Wow, what an opening! I’m definitely putting it on my list. I just read someone say that writing is in the details, or description is in the details, or bringing a scene alive is in the details … whatever, but boy are they right.

    And Marcus Sakey completely nailed it. I can’t wait to read the whole book! Thanks for the post!

  11. Tasha Alexander

    Guyot! I was just wondering what’s going on with Landis. Hadn’t heard anything in a while. What a freaking mess.

    And, yeah, The Blade Itself is a fantastic read. Fantastic.

  12. Guyot


    Landis has his “day in court” this month or next. Though it’s a kangaroo court at best. It’s a bunch of Frenchmen who decide if he will be stripped of the jersey.

    It is really sad that one of the single greatest performances by an American in international sports history is being destroyed by some nationalist asshats.

  13. JLW

    Guyot demonstrates once again that he truly stands for truth, justice, and the American Way.

    You may think I’m making fun of him, but I’m not. Superman was my very first hero, and is still one of my all-time faves–if I compare somebody to him, I mean it from my heart.

    Paul may not be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a steaming locomotive, or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but his conscience and integrity make him a true Man of Steel.

  14. Dave White

    Sakey’s book is amazing, the reason I finished WHEN ONE MAN DIES. It showed me–once again–what could be done with the genre…

    He deserves nothing but the best.

  15. Aldo - Mystery Dawg

    Can someone explain the mixed review in NY Times? I read this book a few months and it is amazing. He has a great voice. Bravo, BRAVO


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