Saturday, April 12, 2008

Reacher and Dudgeon

This week I finished Die Trying by Lee Child and Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover. Both were books that I thought about giving up on early in the plot, but ended up sticking with and I'm glad I did. I didn't consider either one an outstanding read, but they were worth finishing. Books like this are the reason I don't give up on a book very easily. If I've given up on one, it was painfully bad to me.

Die Trying is my first book by Lee Child. His series character is Jack Reacher. I believe this is actually the second book in the Jack Reacher series. Jack is unlucky enough to be a passerby when three men go to kidnap Holly Johnson, an FBI agent. Jack is kidnapped along with Holly just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that's where Jack's unlucky streak runs out. For the rest of the novel he seems to take on superhero qualities. I was beginning to think he might start leaping buildings in a single bound or something.

The plot was your basic "save the damsel in distress"-type plot. I think Child was attempting to make Holly a strong, independent, self-sufficient female character, but he didn't quite succeed. Holly has a bad knee injury and requires a crutch to walk. She's a smart woman, and she makes her own tools - I was having MacGyver flashbacks during those parts of the novel, but in the end, the story is about Reacher, McGrath and her father General Johnson, all men, all out to "save the girl."

One element of the plot that really bothered me was when everyone was convinced that Reacher was in on the kidnapping. They all pointed out that he didn't "fit" with the other kidnappers, but the head of the FBI, the FBI head of Chicago, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff...they all were totally convinced that the ONLY possibility was that he was involved. Even after they got his service record, their only position was that this war "hero" had turned dirty. I would think that if our top people in the FBI and the military could be so narrow-minded with information they know is incomplete our national defense is really deficient.

Overall, the book was enjoyable and I'm glad I finished it. I will probably check into some other Reacher installments as well. But, it won't make my Top 10 of 2008.

The second book I finished this week was Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover. This is Chercover's first novel, and I have to admit that I may have gone into it with too high of expectations. The person who recommended it to me classified it as being on the level of Michael Koryta. It's not, and I was expecting that level of writing. So, it had an unfair disadvantage.

Big City, Bad Blood is the story of Ray Dudgeon, a private investigator from Chicago who agrees to protect a Hollywood locations manager, Bob Loniski, from a mobster until Bob could testify against the guy in court. The overall plot was o.k., but not original. I thought it resembled an early Robert Crais novel an awful lot.

My biggest issue with this book was that I disliked Ray. I liked almost every other supporting character: Vince, Terry, Jill, Gravedigger, even Johnny Greico. But Ray I just had trouble liking. The biggest factor was his seeming disregard for violence. It didn't seem to bother him at all. Among my favorite literary protagonists, they all have times when they are violent, but they have personal conflict with the use of violence. Several times throughout the book Ray would say to himself, "I'm o.k. with that." Meaning he was just fine with the violence that had occurred.

Ray was also quick to pass judgement on others while failing to look in the mirror at himself. Hypocrisy is very unbecoming. And while he did a great job as a body guard, he also seems to have a habit of always thinking of himself first. His feelings trump Jill's feelings, Terry's feelings, his grandfather's. It's like an adolescent mindset.

I was, however, able to identify with him in the end when he said,

"The truth was, I once made an enormous emotional investment in what journalism
is supposed to be, and reality never stood a chance. And I couldn't get
over it, or maybe I just couldn't grow up. Either way, I'd learned that
lesson once. Fool me twice, shame on me.

That quote echoed my feelings about education and I was able to warm up a little to Ray. Maybe in subsequent books he'll change a little more and the violence will become more of an issue.

Overall I seemed to see the influences of other writers in this book, but very little that was uniquely Chercover. He needs something that distinguishes him and doesn't just make him a carbon copy of people who have come before him. He also needs to get away from trying to be funny. He's not.

With this being his first time out, I'll give Chercover the benefit of the doubt, and if he publishes again, I'll probably check it out. But he isn't a Michael Koryta by any means.


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