2024 Reading Challenge

2024 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 1 book toward her goal of 285 books.

2023 Reading Challenge

2023 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 265 books.

Excerpt: Necessary Deeds by Mark Wish

About the Book

Matt Connell, a formerly successful literary agent who’ s been in prison for four years for a crime of passion— homicide by strangulation after learning his wife slept with a friend— receives an early release from Sing Sing to join an FBI undercover investigation of multiple murders in Manhattan. Killings continue to mount as Matt does his best to calm his “ Ferrari brain” — a condition in which his mind accelerates wildly into negative thoughts and worst-case scenarios— even as he falls in love with a suspect, then discovers disturbing truths about his past and hers. When he finds his own life in danger, can he stand up for the Bureau’ s heralded principles of Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity? Not to mention genuine love?

The Excerpt

Here in Sing Sing, the killers I’ve met are better story-tellers than most of the novelists. I’ve represented. They’ll bombard you with twists and turns about how they were ambushed and shackled and prosecuted harshly de-spite their innocence, and you’ll find yourself nodding, buying their horror stories.

To be fair, though, I should probably admit that I’m natural-ly more inclined to suspend disbelief for these guys—my fellow inmates—because of my need to get along with them. After all, for years now I’ve wanted to prove to Warden Scardina that the stint of fury in which I myself killed a human being was a singular incident in an otherwise placid life. I mean, I’m trying to convince him I deserve an early release. Or at least inclusion on the list of exemplary inmates whose hours in the yard have been tripled.

In fact I’m out there, in the yard, when I first meet Jonas. On the unshaded basketball court, where my mood often spikes if direct sunshine finds me. Using the hoop with no net and therefore alone, sometimes lost in thought about my victim, sometimes imagining him putting his first move on my ex, in any case vulnerable to the whims of anyone who has the nerve to approach me.

And Jonas indeed has the nerve. As he crosses the out-of-bounds line, all I know about him (well, all I’ve heard about him since he arrived here yesterday) is that he, too, has killed a man, in his case during a flubbed attempt to rob the Mahopac OTB while partnering up with a defective AR-15.

“This hoop yours?” is how he starts with me.


“You play in school?”

I hoist up a shot that proves to be a brick. “Just out here for the vitamin D.”

He folds his arms, studies me up and down. To imply I fear no one, I reciprocate. I see a gaunt, slightly hunched yet taut fellow ten years younger than I and six inches taller. I see a clean-shaven horse face, a weak yet cleft chin. Green eyes that squint a little through black hornrims, a full head of brown hair with gray coming in barely and on the sides only. Mine, by the way, went completely white during my first five months here.

“How long you in for?” I ask. “Would rather not discuss that.”

I pass him the ball, which he bobbles. He does not shoot.

My guess is he doesn’t give a shit about hoop either.

“Would rather hear what you know about Ethan Hendee,” he says.

Ethan Hendee was a client of mine who, eighteen years ago—that is, more than a decade before I learned my wife wasn’t exactly a saint—gave up on writing novels to write poems that appear in those photocopied literary mags no one reads. He’s a helluva writer, candid and interesting and succinct as anyone published, but I have not survived here by not holding cards close. So: “Ethan Hendee?”


“Why ha?”

“Because I know you’re Matthew Connell, and that you’ve represented the poet Ethan Hendee for a long time.”

“The only problem being I don’t know such a person.” “But see, bro, there’s no question in my mind that you do know him. I know you’ve been his agent for years.”

I shake my head no. Eye the asphalt between us and the cyclone fence.

“You trying to tell me you’re not Matthew Connell?” he asks. “Matt Connell.” I force a sour expression. “Maybe you’re confusing me with some hoity-toity guy? Anyway, how does someone who hauls around an AR-15 know anything about poetry?”

He points at his hornrims. “Because he’s read some?” 

“Well, I don’t know any Hendee.”

“But see, Matt, I still think you do. Plus I think that, as his literary agent, you know what a badass he is.”

In all truth, I do not know this. The Ethan Hendee I represented before my arrest had a soul gentle as any. I’m curious about what this Jonas guy heard Hendee did, but to get an early release, I’ve pledged to myself never to talk about crime that’s gone down on the outside. After all, a rehabbed convict no longer cares about crime, and I am nothing if not a rehabbed convict.

To let this Jonas guy know I’m done socializing for the day, I turn and face the run of the Hudson beyond the chain link and the razor wire, its waves peaking into whitecaps here and there.

“So you’re not gonna spill?” he asks.

I don’t as much as shrug.

He zings me a no-look pass, really zips it, hard, straight at my head, but I notice it soon enough to catch it.

“Ya missed,” I mutter loud enough for him to hear, and I look over to stare him down, but his back is already turned, a confident stride taking him off.

And it occurs to me, as he heads to the guarded double doors between us and the inside, that if he doesn’t have six inches on me, he has seven.

And that my own storied past has taught me that the strength to kill a man comes not only from size—it also comes from youth.

So I’ll avoid him, I decide. Won’t let him know I’m avoiding him, but that’s what I’ll do.

There’s an art to this.

I spend the rest of my time in the yard pretending I care only about my jump shot. At one point I miss sixteen straight. I admit to myself that if this Jonas wanted to get inside my head, well, he has. And as I continue to miss generally, I think more about Ethan Hendee. How does a sixty-some-year-old recluse who’s devoted his life to writing poems suddenly leave his hovel of a basement apartment to do something awful enough to be known by a guy like Jonas?

I ponder this question on and off even after I’m back in my cell. At dinner I ignore Jonas’s glances at me from two tables over, letting my stone-cold expression announce my resolve to keep to myself. Assuring him we’ll never be friends, pals, partners, whatever you want to call it. I am done trusting anyone male. Probably I’m done trusting anyone.

I sleep fitfully that night, with Lauren invading my thoughts only slightly more than Hendee does. More than once I try to dismiss the moment I learned she’d been with a man whose literary success I made happen. Conjuring my state of mind during the twenty-eight minutes that followed that moment can trip off a replay of that state (the uncontrollable acceleration of thoughts, the sharp panic due to loss of control, the goug-ing sense that my very personhood has been decimated), and I don’t want such a replay. I want to be calm. I need calm to sleep. I must sleep so I can conduct myself admirably next I see a guard.

Finally, I doze. Somewhat and for who knows how long. I wake to the clinks of a guard’s keys unlocking my cell. There’s another guard with him, a younger one, maybe a rookie. The older one mutters, “Scardina wants to see you.”

Excerpted from Necessary Deeds by Mark Wish © 2024 by Mark Wish, used with permission from Regal House Publishing.

About the Author

Mark Wish’s previous novels have been praised by Daniel Woodrell, Delia Ephron, Salman Rushdie, Rebecca Makkai, Ben Fountain, Anne Serling, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times. His short fiction has won a Pushcart Prize and appeared in more than 125 print venues including BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES. A renowned book doctor for thirty years, he now edits and publishes COOLEST AMERICAN STORIES, whose inaugural volume went to a third printing.

Find Mark online at:

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