As in all good noir, Marcus Sakey plays expertly with duality in his debut thriller The Blade Itself (St. Martin’s Minotaur): good versus bad, rich versus poor, the wisdom of age versus the invincibility of youth. Of course there’s a madonna and a whore. Sakey–a Chicagoan and member (along with Sara Paretsky, Kevin Guilfoile, and others) of the Outfit crime-fiction collective–weds these classic conflicts to a contemporary setting in the tale of Danny Carter, a petty thief gone straight who’s forced back into the life by circumstances he believes are beyond his control. That this belief turns out to be false is the moral hinge for the story, a hard-boiled fugue on free will and individual responsibility. Sakey writes with propulsive confidence and an ear for the street-smart argot of cops and robbers, his characters are complex studies in gray, and his setting is a Chicago uneasily strung between gritty old neighborhoods and gleaming new loft condos. a With Theresa Schwegel and Sean Chercover, Sun 1/14, 2 PM, Centuries & Sleuths, 7419 W. Madison, Forest Park, 773-771-7243; Wed 1/17, 7 PM, Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln, 773-293-2665.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Brett Carlson.