Out in stores now: MARRY, BANG, KILL, the new book by Giller-longlistied author Andrew Battershill!
Don't miss out on reading the novel Publishers Weekly calls "a surprisingly heartfelt story tucked inside a superbly oddball crime thriller."
ABOUT THE NOVEL
For a guy who mugs people for their laptops, Tommy Marlo isn’t such a bad guy. He can’t help trying to make the people he meets — even those he mugs — feel better about their situation. Unfortunately for Tommy, he rips off the daughter of a psychotic, high-ranking member of a notorious motorcycle gang. Even worse, the laptop that he pilfered contains proof of a few gruesome murders and the location of a huge stash of money. Flat broke and marked for death, his only shot at surviving is to rob the motorcycle gang, use the cash to get out of town, and hide out on the small island where his mother now lives.
What follows is a revisionist crime thriller, a page-turning hybrid of literary and genre fiction for fans of Elmore Leonard or Patrick deWitt. But Battershill writes with a voice all his own. Deftly combining crackling dialogue with biting wit, MARRY, BANG, KILL hums with the thrill of chaos as Tommy runs to a quiet island to escape a swelling cast of characters who are trying to arrest, rob, kill, or save him. The island won’t be quiet for long.
1: Victoria, British Columbia
Tommy Marlo was about this smart: if on a random Saturday night at the sketchiest nightclub in Montreal a stranger offered him drugs, Tommy would quickly size the stranger up to figure out whether the stranger was trying to roofie him. If he thought the guy was trying to drug and roll him in the alley out back later, he would fake-swallow and pocket the pills, then surprise and roll the guy in the alley before the guy could roll him. This way, nobody else at the club would get roofied, and Tommy would have some loose cash for himself.
Tommy was also exactly this smart: he’d forget the pills in his pocket for about three weeks, pop one, say, while he was getting drunk at a bowling alley, then have an incredibly weird night that he was lucky to escape without kidney damage.
So as he watched the teenage girl pack her MacBook Pro into her very large, very possibly real Gucci purse from across the street, he did a number of things that were halfway stupid and the rest of the way clever.
Having lost the holster, Tommy had to situate the hunting knife in his pocket so that he’d be able to pull it without cutting himself or accidentally slicing through the entire pocket of his sweatpants again. He scanned the street behind him and began moving towards the coffee shop at the perfect pace to intercept her at the perfect spot as she exited: far enough from the door of the coffee shop that she’d be hidden by the hedge of the patio, and far enough from the bus stop that nobody would recognize what was happening.
He also removed his glasses, an action for which smart and stupid were irrelevant judgments, since it was a thing he had to do. For Tommy, it was only possible to rob someone when they appeared to him a blurry, Caucasian shape rather than a living, 3-D teenage girl whose life was just as unique and special-feeling to her as his was to him.
His bad eyes were a big reason Tommy had gotten into mugging, as opposed to any other kind of theft, since it was the kind that didn’t necessarily involve night vision. The kind where somebody with experience will tell you your first time: just close your eyes and do it. For Tommy, that was perfect, since he could stare people in the eye like a wild dog, and just be seeing what most people see when they relax their whole eyeballs.
Tommy wasn’t sure what the exact definition of legally blind was, but he felt confident it would be insensitive to call himself that. He’d had too many prescriptions to keep track of, and none had fixed his vision all the way. Most helped most of the way, got him seeing straight with his glasses on or his contacts in, getting by, driving a car. But he never got the perfect pair — his vision always stayed that little bit askew, tilting off into swirls and vagueness. So he was not, probably, legally blind. Just very, very shitty at seeing things within twenty feet.
He’d prepared for the girl to be a bit of a tough nut, thirteen years old, bright blond hair and dark black eyebrows, leaving her crumbs on the table, shoving her way out the door and scowling into the welcoming brightness of the late afternoon. Already looking mean enough to teach middle school, let alone be in it. He reached her in perfect stride, at the perfect spot, and slid an arm over her shoulders, subtly twisting his body around to block her (and the fact that he was covering her mouth) from the street. She immediately bit his hand, and Tommy sucked in breath quickly, removing the knife from his pocket and directing her eyes towards it with his own.
“Okay, Bitch Face, give up the bag. Give it up. Give it up. I will stab you if you scream.”
He retracted the hand and wiped it on his shirt, only succeeding in spreading her thick spit further across his hand.
The girl didn’t look even a little scared, just grudging. She probably reacted the same way to movie theatre ads about turning off her cellphone. Her demeanour bluntly depressed Tommy. If he couldn’t even put a scare into a thirteen-year-old girl, it really was time to get out of the game. She sullenly dropped the bag to the ground, and Tommy scooped it up with one hand, replacing the knife in his pocket with the other.
“It’s not even my computer. You smell like onions.”
What a little shit, Tommy thought, everyone smells like onions — calling people out on it was breaking the agreement we all make with each other each day. He turned to go.
“And I know I have a bitch face. People don’t need to keep telling me.”
This stopped Tommy, and he turned back to her. “How many people have called you a bitch face? I was just doing a thing here.”
There are two personality traits required to stay in action as a street mugger for as long as Tommy had. The first is the one most people would think of: being careless or vicious or callous enough to threaten people with a knife and rob them. The second is just as important, but more counterintuitive: being nice and easygoing enough to make and keep friends who are willing to help sell what one steals, and not dime one out if they get pinched.
These two traits exist on a spectrum, and Tommy was about as far as one could functionally be to the likeable side. He would have absolutely no problem fencing this computer and having a pleasant, personally meaningful afternoon with Bill, his computer guy. He would also, it was starting to seem, have trouble leaving Bitch Face without feeling bad about himself.
She toed the ground and tossed a heavy, limp chunk of hair over her shoulder. “But it was the first thing you thought of, right? Like, randomly, it popped in your head. Everyone calls me a bitch face. Or says I have one.”
Tommy was spending much too long in the open here, but something about Bitch Face’s prematurely jaded manner tugged at him. He scanned the street, and finding it empty, he looked her in the face, a vague chinook of paternal warmth wafting weakly through him. “You’re young. Just . . . uh . . . it’s also a posture thing. Like, hold your shoulders differently, maybe.”
Bitch Face narrowed her eyes at him. “Fuck you, you greasy retard. Do you know who my dad is?”
Tommy turned his back on her and started hustling to his car. He felt stupid for hanging around too long and for not trusting his instincts about how good at hurting people’s feelings Bitch Face would be.
“You’re in big fucking trouble. You don’t even know you’re in big fucking trouble.”
Tommy set off at a run, wanting to turn the corner, start his car, and get out of there. At that pace, the canopy of the trees melted into a mass of vague illuminated green. A blurry leaf-sky.
Bitch Face’s voice, steady as a countertop behind him. A calm, penetrating shout. “They’ll kill your whole family and throw them in a ditch in Delta. Watch the news.” Tommy heard her through the breath in his ears, just as he hit the corner and turned it, the beige blobby blur of his car floating into view: “My dad will cut your feet off and throw them in the ocean. Don’t you read Twitter?”
And Tommy Marlo was also this smart: he knew when a threat was specific enough to be terrifying.