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July 17, 2011 / C.T. Henry

REVIEW: The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey

When Marcus Sakey first came on the mystery scene in 2007 with The Blade Itself, Ken Bruen said it best: “Boston has Lehane. D.C. has Pelecanos. And now Chicago has its very own dark poet.” What Sakey brings to the genre is a distinctive way of capturing tension. It’s palpable, and as it crescendos, you feel like you’ve just been kicked in the gut and can’t breathe.  Additionally, much like Alfred Hitchcock’s protagonists, Sakey places ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.  With this lethal combination, readers are in for a truly exhilarating experience.

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes begins when a man wakes up naked and freezing on a beach.  He doesn’t know where he is or how he came to be on the beach.  Most importantly, he doesn’t remember who he is.  After discovering a nearby BMW, which he assumes is his, he discovers that the car is registered to Daniel Hayes of Malibu, California.  When he finally reaches California, he discovers that his wife, a celebrated TV actress, has been killed in a suspicious automobile accident, and the police want him for questioning.  Meanwhile a female private detective and a psychopathic killer named Bennett are also hunting for Daniel Hayes.  Since he has no memories, the most important question is: Who is Daniel Hayes?

Overall, Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes is a cleverly crafted thriller.  The author keeps the reader and the main character guessing for most of the book and gradually unveils who he is and why everyone is looking for him.  After a choppy and disjointed start, which goes on too long before giving some answers, the twist in the middle of the book is a welcome surprise. Nevertheless, I found the sections of screenplay-scripted dialogue annoying and fragmenting.  Additionally, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of déjà vu with Bennett’s characterization.  Like Sakey’s first novel, Two Deaths seems like another bully thriller.  Bennett has a grudge against Daniel Hayes and terrorizes him until he gets what he wants.  Ultimately, Bennett’s motivation comes across as flat and unrealistic.  The core of the story, however, centers on the intense relationship between Daniel and his wife.  Here, Sakey delivers two likable characters, who are very much in love but not without their problems.  Their story and the seemingly inescapable trap that Sakey sets for them, make for an engrossing summer thriller.

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