"Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed"
(Reviewed by Hagen Baye MAR 26, 2009)
“….This place America ain’t like home [i.e., Kosovo]. No way. Here, nobody takes responsibility for anything. They got ‘no fault insurance,’ bumper stickers and tee shirts that say ‘sh*t happens.’ Come on man, let’s be real, sh*t don’t just happen yo, that’s what I’m talking about: Humpty Dumpty was pushed!...”
Yo, yo, yo! Playas, listen up good: Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed is hip-hoppin’, really rockin’, top-of-the-line and genuine. Word! Props to that dude, goes by the name of Marc Blatte. He be da man! He knows how to move a pen or tickle them there keys on his computer keyboard. Know what I’m sayin’? However he got it done, done he did but good the very first time he tried. For, yo, this here book is for-real. Word, ya all!
Seriously (but no offense intended to fans of hip-hop music by the previous paragraph), the publisher of Marc Blatte’s Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed touts it as the “first truly…hip-hop noir mystery.” Readers will welcome this debut novel by Blatte, who himself “was a hip-hop white boy pioneer record producer.” Humpty Dumpty is said to be the first of a series that will feature Blatte’s new character, NYPD Detective “Black Sallie Blue Eyes,” named such due to his “ice-blue” eyes and the color of his hair--and his personality.
Italian-born Salvatore Fortunato Messina is a top notch detective with skills admired by his law enforcement peers. In particular, he has a strong intuitive sense that permits him to read people. When facing down an armed person, he somehow can intuit whether the person will use the weapon. He is a superlative interrogator who knows how to time his questioning, make the right use of silence (his “Liquid Wrench”) and can read the meaning behind facial expressions. “Sallie,” as he is called, despite his extraordinary competence, does have his vulnerable side: he has low self-esteem from being abandoned by his two wives.
Sallie’s brilliant crime-fighting is augmented by his two capable partners, Teddy Schwartz (“one buff stud”) and Jackie Gleeson (a “handsome brother” who is a Fordham grad).
In addition to Sallie and his crew, Blatte has created an array of fascinating characters. First, there are look-alike cousins Pashko and Vooko, immigrants from the killing fields of Kosovo, who get turned onto the hip-hop life style. Both aspire to be “B-boys from the Boogie Down” and they dress and speak (the opening quote above was spoken by Pashko) and act the part—as best (or as imperfectly as) they can. They both work security at the Kiki Club in Chelsea. Then, there are four young men, all parolees from the “Far Rock PJs,” who aspire to be hip-hop artists. These fellows are known on the street as Science, Freeze, Pea Head and Scholar; Scholar is manager of the group which calls itself Proof Positive. Scholar’s cousin Biz is a big-time hip-hop producer and Proof relies on this connection to make inroads into and to the top of the hip-hop world. (By the way, Biz is no “ghetto thug,” considers his cousin to be a “lazy, devious, violently twisted criminal” and is extremely reluctant to help him in any way—unless absolutely necessary, given that Biz is basically afraid of his cuz.) Rounding out the principal characters of Humpty Dumpty are the Kessler’s: rich, prominent, heavy-hitting and influential developer, Sheldon, and his spoiled and drugged-out son Kal and screwed up daughter Leah.
What brings this cast of characters together are incidents at Kiki one weekend night. Pashko gets shot dead, Vooko assaulted by a hit and run vehicle and a white hip-hop producer for the ultimate hip-hop impresario Sunn Volt gets knifed. Not long afterwards Donny Donovan, the Kessler’s attorney, is found dead in his posh home in Mamaroneck. In addition to the foregoing victims (including attorney Donovan) also present at the club that night are Proof Positive and Kal and Leah.
Blatte writes an entertaining account of Sallie and his team’s solving of the mystery of who is/are responsible for the crimes committed at Kiki and the presumably related murder of Donovan a few days later. The story traces the cops running down their leads; follows them to the Bronx, Brooklyn, the Rockaways in Queens, to Chelsea and Tribeca in Manhattan, where they interview persons who may have relevant information, witnesses and suspects. There are scenes with Proof Positive at their recording session at Biz’s studio, as well as scenes where Sallie interviews each one individually; Sallie’s interrogation skills are on display during those sessions. There are also scenes with Vooko seeking revenge against those he thinks had something to do with his beloved cousin Pashko’s death. (The scenes with Proof Positive and Vooko are punctuated with hip-hop lingo.) The police procedural aspects to the story demonstrate how the cops sift through the truths and lies and analyze what they know in order to make sense of it all. Also, Sallie had to finesse the political pressures introduced by Sheldon Kessler who has significant influence with the mayor and police commissioner.
Little by little, the “dots” emerge which need to be somehow connected by Sallie and his team. Using their exceptional wiles, including trading off lesser offenses in order to gain solid testimony regarding the more serious offenses, Sallie and his team figure out who did what to whom. Among other things, it turns out that thuggish behavior is not confined to the denizens of the ghetto.
Along the way Blatte, through his various characters, makes a number of interesting observations, which give the reader something to think about, as this is more than just another who-done-it murder mystery.
Regarding hip-hop artists, Sunn Volt, the highly refined hip-hop mogul whose parents were “dirt-poor,” comments that “ghetto thugs” like Proof Positive “believe the hype” and, unlike the successful hip-hop artists, fail to “separate playing the thug for an audience and being one in real life.” He added: “I got into hip-hop because I believe hip-hop musicians are the artistic descendents of blues artists carrying on a noble tradition of expression.”
Immigrant Vooko makes some fascinating from-the-outside-looking-in observations about this country. He found that American competitiveness results in Americans being generally unhappy due to the self-imposed unceasing competitive pressures. Surprising, he says he identifies with the African Americans in the Far Rock’s projects, as he too belongs to a marginalized, disenfranchised minority group. And he finds the American concept of presumption of innocence as naïve and susceptible of increasing the potential for evil to triumph.
All in all, Blatte produces a hard-to-put-down page-turner which is an expertly done first novel. Readers have every reason to look forward to the installments to follow of the Black Sallie Blue Eyes series.
- Amazon readers rating: from 8 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed at FSB
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed (March 2009)
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- Official website for Marc Blatte
- NPR audio interview with Marc Blatte (April 19, 2009)
- Crime Always Pays interview with Marc Blatte
- Written Voices interview with Marc Blatte
- FSB on Marc Blatte meeting Ed McBain/ Evan Hunter
- Book Loons review of Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed
- The Ecletic Reader review of Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed
- Rough Edges review of Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed
- Bookgasm review of Humpty Dumpy Was Pushed
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About the Author:
Marc Blatte was born and raised in the Bronx. He played baseball in the Roy Campanella Little League and was a protege of the bestselling author Ed McBain. After a brief stint west of the Hudson at Kenyon College, Marc returned to the city.
Marc Blatte is a Grammy Award nominated songwriter/producer who has worked in the forefront of the New York music scene for over thirty-five years. He has shaken Joe Frazier's hand at Small's Paradise, danced with Sherry Lansing, fixed Debbie Harry's sink, met Henry Kissinger, and had an unexpected visit from the Wu Tang Clan. He has worked as a golf caddy, Rotor Rooter man, tenement superintendent, keyboard player in a lounge band, was a hip-hop white boy pioneer record producer ... and lived to tell.
The father of three daughters, Marc and his wife Jeanne divide their time between New York and Nicaragua.