Archive for the ‘Fiction Fortune Hunter’ Category

Noir Made New Again

Friday, June 11th, 2010

I was rummaging through the book store like a blind pig hunting truffles. The problem is I can’t smell anything anymore. Too many sinus surgeries have left my olfactory nerves dead as yesterday’s news. But I was determined not to leave empty-handed. So I went on eyeballs alone and picked up Gun, With Occasional Music. The title alone seared my fingertips. I didn’t even read the dust-jacket. The cover copy was set in typewriter face and that was all I had to know.

Imagine my surprise when I began to nibble on what I initially took to be another bad Raymond Chandler riff and a kangaroo shows up sticking a roscoe in the protagonist’s ribs. I had already been introduced to an evolved kitten in an evening dress and a heaping mouthful of metaphors that would gag a goat. What goes on here? What had I stumbled into? Why was I finding myself getting hooked on a gumshoe who snorts coke off his dashboard and cracks wise to sheep in lace nighties?

Apparently sometime around 1994 Jonathan Lethem had convinced a publisher there was scratch to made by setting classic private eye noir in whatever might laughingly be called the future. Not so far in the future that people had stopped driving cars and shooting guns and having sex. But just far enough in the future that animals had evolved to the point that they were no longer simply pets and companions, they were now employees, and hired muscle, and friends, and mistresses, and lovers. Oh, and I should probably mention that in this future the radio and television play both musical and non-musical news, recreational drugs have become not only medicinal but absolutely essential to everyday existence. Forgetall, Acceptall, Blanketall, and more are consumed liked people used to chain-smoke. And not totally unlike smoking, the active ingredient in all those drugs is Addictall. You get the picture. But you don’t remember it. Which is kind of the whole point.

Another interesting thing about this brave new world is that people’s identity cards have karmic levels that can be increased or decreased by the police. When your karmic level gets too low, watch out brother. You’re a prime candidate not for jail or prison, that’s too old school. No, it’s the freezer you’ve got to fear. And who wants to be put on ice for a decade or two.

So, what you have is this 1930’s shamus in the middle of 20-who-knows-when, navel deep in all the pulpy behavior we’ve come to know and love. Murder, gambling, prostitution, boozing, whoring, fist-fights, shoot-outs and more. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention there are also babyheads. Hideous genetic experiments that have the short stature of babies and the nasty intellects of adults with bodies that are frighteningly somewhere in-between.

The good news here is that the writer has a firm grasp on what really makes noir work regardless of its hour on the cosmic clock. A hero whose life is a mess but whose character, though battered, is still intact. Tough-as-nails broads, ham-fisted cops, badass villains (some with tails), inept crooks, non-innocent bystanders, and a future getting bleaker ever day.

There’s talk of a movie to be made of all this, and if they stay true to Jonathan Lethem’s vision, it should be a doozy.

I closed the back cover on Gun, With Occasional Music with a lingering wisp of regret. I was sorry to see it end. And if you ask The Fiction Fortune Hunter, that’s what you want out of any novel. Even the ones you just pick up in the bookstore because they have a title that slaps you in the face and makes you like it.

On The Brink Of History

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Intrigue. To arouse the curiosity or interest by unusual, new, or otherwise fascinating or compelling qualities. Intrigue is the mother’s milk of all good spy novels. It is something always sought by the authors of same, but not always found. Luckily for you, it is easy to find in the subject of this post.

Consider this. Something grand and awful is coming. You not only know exactly what it is, you know precisely how it will turn out. If you are of a certain age, you will have been inundated with fact and fiction about it all your life. Yet still, you are swept up in the lives of those who will be forever altered by it. Such is the allure of history fictionalized. Such is the power of a gifted author at the top of his game. Such is the intriguing nature of The Spies Of Warsaw.

It’s 1937. The Nazi Party has begun its assault on German Jews and is not bothering to hide its vision of European domination. In Warsaw, Poland, life goes on with a surface calm. But beneath that surface, behind the familiar commerce of everyday life, clandestine meetings are being planned, commitments are being compromised, treachery is afoot. A middle-aged businessman from Breslau meets his mistress in the afternoon and his control agent in the evening. An elderly Russian couple charm party-goers as they smile and nod and look for a way to avoid the secret police. Newspaper gossip columnists sell information for money and status. Embassy balls and dinners are filled with seemingly idle chatter that cloaks entreaties, agreements, or perhaps invitations to disaster.

In the middle of it all, Jean-Francois Mercier, a forty-six year old widower and French Military Attache, weaves his way among the aristocracy, high-ranking government personnel, artists and writers and hangers-on. He too is on the hunt. Not just for spies, but for information. War plans, armament specifications, defense preparations–these are the pieces of paper that can be turned into coin of the realm. Mercier, and his superiors back in Paris, know full well that once Hitler starts, he won’t hesitate to turn France into a conquest. But how will he come, and where, and when? These are secrets that lives are risked to uncover.

The author, Alan Furst, writes as the realists paint. He shadows his characters with ambiguities. He masks his brush strokes with dialogue authentic as pain. He foregoes explanation for representation. The reader, like the viewer, is drawn to the portrait and envious of the painter. Writers like Furst, ignite the black and white of the 1930’s and 40’s we can never erase from our memory. He recreates a world that knew evil was on the horizon, along with inhabitants of that world who either chose to ignore or engage it.

If you enjoy going back in time, if you agree that people can be against their government and still be for their country, if you love atmosphere and pace and a story well told, then you, like The Fiction Fortune Hunter will be intrigued with Alan Furst’s The Spies Of Warsaw.

Giants Are People Too

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “What could you possibly have to say about Ernest Hemingway that hasn’t been said countless times by countless writers infinitely more intelligent than you.” My reply, “The way to keep legends alive is to keep talking about them.” And I believe Hemingway is one writing legend we’ll be talking about as long as novels are read and loved and remembered.

It’s probably fair to say that Ernest Hemingway is America’s most famous writer. Living or dead. I realize that some living writers seem dead, but that’s another story. Hemingway is always likened to the man’s man that all men wanted to be and all women wanted to bed. Journalist. Soldier. Boxer. Trophy fisherman. Big game hunter. If it was testosterone-filled sport, he was part of it. That was/is his American appeal, I think. The outdoorsman who just happened to be as smart and intellectual as anyone in the room. But one to whom sitting in the room, seemed boring and wasteful. Unless one were writing. Or drinking. Hemingway once said of drink, “An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.” Perhaps that was part of what was going on when Hemingway himself was spending time with friends (fools?) and drinking (one assumes to excess) through the afternoons and evenings of Fiesta, in Pamplona, Spain in the mid 1920’s. Whether it was or not, it’s fortunate for us that he was there enjoying the bullfights and the sangria and the soft Spanish nights, because it lead to his first, and I believe, his best novel, The Sun Also Rises.

Published in 1926 and sold for $2 a copy, it’s still read and debated and studied today in literature classes all over the world. The title comes from Ecclesiastes, and says in part, “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever…The sun also ariseth…” Praised by many as the ultimate reflection of what Gertrude Stein is said to have labeled, the lost generation, it’s a novel about the generation still young in years after World War I, but made old by the recognition that so many lives could be snuffed out long before they had time to flower and grow. Hemingway seemed to grasp that permanence had little to do with people. He often reflected that all men’s lives have the same ending, and it is only the details of their lives that make them different, individual.

The Sun Also Rises traces the wanderings of a group of friends who travel and drink, squabble and fight, embarrass themselves and each other, run with the bulls in the streets of Pamplona, thrill to the bullfights and the matadors, and eventually go their separate ways. The plot, what little there is of it, concerns itself to some degree with which male will eventually wind up with Lady Brett Ashley. Will it be the narrator, Jake Barnes, a wounded war veteran, incapable of being the whole man he once was. Mike Campbell, the hearty fellow who gets mean when he gets drunk, Robert Cohn, the Jewish ex-boxing champ of Princeton who takes everything and everyone too seriously, Bill Gorton the writer, or the Matador, or the Count. It doesn’t really matter, actually, as Lady Brett pretty much sleeps with every male she comes in contact with anyway. Her character became the archetypical “liberated female”. A woman who does whatever pleases her, but actually finds little pleasure in doing any of it.

To this reader, The Sun Also Rises is a novel about the impermanence of all things human. It ends, like most lives do, I suspect, with reflections on regret.

If you’re a reader, you have to read Hemingway. If you read any Hemingway, you have to read The Sun Also Rises. It’s the book that made him famous and ignited the legendary literary light he was to become. If, like The Fiction Fortune Hunter, you’re a fan of good writing and great novels, you’ll find it unforgettable. Like one finds many of Hemingway’s quotes. I particularly like this one. “All good books have one thing in common, they are truer than if they had really happened.”

Holes In The Earth

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Guernica is one of Picasso’s most famous paintings. It depicts, in the artist’s unique style, the bombing of the Basque city of Guernica on the eve of World War II. With that painting as inspiration, Dave Boling conceived and wrote the novel, Guernica. It tells a before, during, and after tale of individuals who were unlucky enough to experience it.

Recreating a fictional depiction of historical events is always a dicey move. Historians quibble about the tiniest details. Readers often chafe at having to slog through the minutia. But sometimes, it’s the best way to turn history back into flesh and blood. Too often we remember the dates, the events, the consequences, but we fail to remember that human beings were a part of it all. Men, women, children, and in this case, animals too, subjected to abject terror and horror from the skies.

Boling’s is a story of two brothers, their families, their trials and travails and encounters with the evil that was General Francisco Franco. We become immersed in the simple, often poverty-stricken lives of the inhabitants of the Basque village of Guernica. Interspersed with their story, Boling gives us insights into Picasso’s career and life at the time. Perhaps, not surprisingly, we soon lose interest in Picasso and get caught in the struggles of peasants scratching out a living unaware of the horror that is to come. Fiction becomes more powerful that history. The fate of characters who only represent real people become more important to us than the actual artist who lived and worked and left a legacy of art that may never be equaled. Such is the power of story telling.

The actual bombing is depicted in vivid detail that words can convey more strongly than pictures. Reality happens quickly. It’s aftermath often caught in photographs or illustrations. Words wander through the fear, pain, confusion, hysteria, sorrow and grief that are part of the experience. In this way the impact is far greater.

Guernica is Dave Boling’s first novel. It’s an excellent start. The Fiction Fortune Hunter recommends it to anyone who enjoys history, storytelling, momentous events come to life. It will help you remember something that should never be forgotten.

Another Place, Another Time

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Before the international acclaim of both the book and the movie, The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje wrote a novel entitled In The Skin of a Lion. It has the feel of a sprawling epic like E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime. It may have been a predecessor (unintended of course) of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It is the kind of book that appeals to both persnickety critics and enthusiastic readers. In The Skin of a Lion is a big story told in an intimate way. Which is often the best way to tell any story.

Set in Canada (mostly in Toronto) in the early part of the 20th Century, the novel steeps you in the teeming world of European immigrants who have come to what the author often refers to as upper America. Here, they work as loggers, laborers, miners, builders of bridges and dams and vast municipal buildings. They toil as butchers, bakers, tanners, and slaughterhouse killers of beef. They do the jobs that build countries, continents, and fortunes. Yet they partake in none of the spoils, and are often buried beneath the work that they do.

Patrick is the farm boy around whom Ondaatje’s story evolves. As a youth, he helps his father dynamite logs that jam up river traffic. He watches the Finnish loggers spend their little free time in the evening skating on frozen lakes with lanterns to light their way. Human lightening bugs who seem to float effortlessly over the cold, slick ice. After the death of his father, Patrick travels to the city and is immeshed in the immigrants’ strongholds. Neighborhoods where luckless country boys can afford to find work among newcomers who speak little if any English. Ghettos where women are as free with their love as men are with their friendship.

Patrick’s coming of age, and his growth as a man, involves him with a myriad of fascinating characters. An actress who’s as etherial as her passion. An empire builder who goes to spectacular lengths to achieve anonymity. A heroic high-wire construction worker on his way to becoming a baker. A mother, and lover, who’s most at home as an anarchist. And a thief, Caravaggio, who helps Patrick in his attempt to avenge all mankind, as well as the woman he loved. The character of Caravaggio will surface once again in Ondaatje’s The English Patient.

The author’s method of storytelling is a constant interweaving of past, present, and future. We find out what will happen to characters before it happens to them. Later we find out how and why it happened. His prose is not constricted by the formalities of linear events. And there is a great deal of poetry among his many shadings of words and sentences and phrases that linger past the turning of a page.

If you enjoy entering another time and place and world, travel to Toronto in the early 1900’s for a tour of people and places and events you are not likely to forget. The Fiction Fortune Hunter did. And he’s all the better for it.

Adrift in a stream of consciousness

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

A prisoner recounts his story. In his own words. At his own pace. Slipping into a tributary here and there to fill in some psychological blanks. And often as not, having done that, he makes a point of telling you it wasn’t really relevant. But here’s the bit that makes his ambling tale utterly believable. He never once proclaims his innocence.

John Banville’s The Book of Evidence was first published in 1989. It is a tidy novel that has lost none of its impact some twenty plus years after its original penning. There are obvious parallels to that most classic confessional, Crime and Punishment, but they don’t get in the way of this absorbing foray into the mind of a not completely unappealing neer-do-well hoisted rather clumsily on his own petard.

Freddie Montgomery is an Irishman drinking to excess (pardon the redundancy) and squandering his meager inheritance as he and his wife island-hop around Greece and the Mediterranean. Falling in with a rogue of equal or perhaps even less moral fortitude than himself, Freddie winds up owing some rather nasty fellows a good bit of money that he is totally unable to repay. Being the ruffians that they are, they refuse to let Freddie slide on his debt and hold his wife as collateral while he heads back to his ancestral home to come up with the funds.

In due course, we learn that Freddie virtually abandoned his aging mother upon his father’s death, and went off to make his way in the world. So as you might expect, his mother is neither thrilled to see him, nor in the least moved, to loan him any money. She’s not really in a financial position to do so anyway, as she’s sold what was left of her husband’s questionable art collection to fund an equestrian business that spends more in feed than it recoups in revenue. Freddie however, is convinced that she was probably cheated and got far less than she should have for the sale of the paintings. He therefore sets out on a quest to run the art treasures down and get what was rightfully theirs. So begins the journey that will eventually lead to Freddie becoming a full-fleged thief and murderer.

The author, John Banville, does a masterful job of letting Freddie tell his story with enough elan that the reader becomes empathetic to his plight, while simultaneously seeing him for the slacker that he is. In point of fact, Freddie’s troubles are directly attributable to Freddie himself, and his inability to put virtually anything in the world in the proper perspective. That fatal flaw, combined with his copious consumption of alcohol, leads to murder most fowl, flight, treachery, capture, and eventually incarceration.

Banville writes with consummate skill and erudition. He gives Freddie a voice that is educated, one quite capable of deception, yet the reader somehow feels he is being told the absolute truth. For now that Freddie has done the worst any of us can do, why should he add lies to that which he must ultimately answer for.

It really is a pleasure to partake of Banville’s prose. Here’s one edited example:
“My counsel is a large, lumbering, unhandy man. Yards, literally yards of pinstripe with a big, square head, raggedy hair, tiny and pointed eyes. I think a life spent poking in the crevices of other people’s nasty little tragedies has damaged something in him.”

John Banville’s The Book of Evidence was an early example of what the author had to offer. Many books and many literary prizes have occurred since it was written. The Fiction Fortune Hunter would like to join the chorus of those singing the praises of this exceptional writer. You’d do well to find and read more of his work. It’s unforgettable.

Sometimes The Safest Places Aren’t

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

There’s nothing quite like a good, old-fashioned thriller. A suspense novel can garner no higher praise than to be hung with that cliche of cliches, “a page-turner.”

Thrillers come in all shapes and sizes. Horror. Crime. Detective. Amateurs caught up in circumstances beyond their control. Each genre is as ubiquitous as the next. Many fans and readers devour them like candy. But thinking of them that way is to pay them less respect than they deserve. Particularly the good ones.

A particularly good one, that’s very high profile these days is Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island. Though the profile is really due to the movie that’s currently out, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DeCaprio. It’s an excellent book that’s been made into an excellent movie. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about a book that hasn’t been made into a movie yet, but probably will be. And if the as-yet unmade movie comes anywhere near the quality of the book, it will be a winner.

City Of The Sun is everything a suspense thriller should be. From the very beginning it grabs you by the lapels and keeps you leaping from chapter to chapter in search of what’s going to happen next. Granted, it unwinds in such a way that you can pretty much guess how it will end, but then again it might not. And it’s put together with such precision and control, that you really don’t care if it does turn out like you think it might because it’s a real reader’s joy ride.

Reality is actually one of the things that makes a thriller more thrilling. If you can believe that what you’re reading really can (and does) happen, it’s often even more nail-biting. The author, David Levien, keeps a firm grasp on reality as he weaves a story too often told on the news these days. The kidnapping and disappearance of a child. In this case, a fifteen year old boy, snatched from his suburban neighborhood in Indianapolis. The horror of such an act, and the subsequent pain and suffering it evokes on the young boy’s parents is artfully interspersed with the more police-procedural-like approach taken by the private investigator who’s been brought in to take up the cold trail the cops have basically abandoned.

The P.I., Frank Behr, has just the right amount of battered personal history to make him central casting’s idea of the perfect protagonist. But again, author Levien has done a great job of imbuing a stock character with just the right amount of grit and humanity to make him someone you want to spend time with. And chances are, readers will. This is his first appearance in print, but I would bet we’ll be seeing more of him in the future.

It probably occurs to you that City Of The Sun is an odd title for a story that’s grounded in Indianapolis. I won’t spoil the fun of finding out what the title has to do with the story, but suffice to say you’ll eventually find the title appropriate.

Spring is coming, summer not far behind. If these sorts of days fill you with desire for a book you can dive into and chew to your heart’s content, The Fiction Fortune Hunter recommends City Of The Sun, regardless of what climate you find yourself in.

Similar Yet Somehow Unique

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

It’s impossible to read The Piano Tuner, by Daniel Mason, without noticing the parallels to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Of course, if you haven’t seen Coppola’s movie, or if you’re unaware of Conrad’s novel, you’ll be gleefully oblivious to them and can therefore enjoy Mason’s tome on it’s own merits. And there’s a lot to enjoy.

Set in the mid to late 1800’s, The Piano Tuner tells the story of Edgar Drake, a happily married piano tuner in London who get’s a commission to travel to the other side of the world, Burma, to tune a famous piano that is now the property of the British occupying forces. It was requested by and now assigned to one Surgeon-Major Anthony J. Carroll, who has set up an outpost in the remote province of Mae Lwin, Shan States on the western side of the country just inside the French Indochina border. Unlike Conrad’s ivory trader Kurtz, and Coppola’s renegade militarist Colonel Kurtz, Carroll is not a dangerous egomaniac, but rather a man of peace who is attempting to bring the Burmese and other indigenous populations under England’s wing with science, medicine, and yes, music. Or is he?

Drake, the piano tuner, has never been out of England, and his long journey just to get to Burma via steamship on the Atlantic, trains across India, boats in the Bay of Bengal, horseback, canoe, and on foot, make up at least half the book. His subsequent stays in Rangoon, Mandalay and eventually MaeL Lwin, where he finally encounters Carroll, are filled with all manner of understated adventure. From a tiger hunt that goes terribly wrong, to a lethal encounter with brigands, to a secret meeting that may or may not be treasonous, Drake experiences more in three months than he has experienced in his 41 years of life to that point.

Along the way, the author, Daniel Mason, delivers a stunning compendium of knowledge about geography, military history, botany, literature, philosophy, music, the intricate workings of pianos, and even fate. A particularly impressive achievement considering that not only is The Piano Tuner Mason’s first novel, it was written when he was still a medical student.

The essence of the novel turns on big questions. Is it possible to leave behind everything we have cherished in life for something absolutely new and different? If a man is doing saintly things, can he really be a sinner in disguise? Was and is colonialism always doomed from the start? What truly constitutes honor?

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness exposed British colonial tragedy in the Congo. Coppola’s Apocalypse Now examined American over-extension in South Vietnam. Mason’s quiet, luminous, engaging and eventually compelling tale examines the intermingling of beauty, solitude, culture and assimilation, or the lack of it, in Burma, a country that no longer even carries the same name. The Fiction Fortune Hunter heartily recommends you take this journey back in time. The rewards are unforgettable.

"Stillness Amid The Chaos"

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

The novella is more an acquaintance than a friend. It’s like someone you meet in a bar, have an interesting conversation with, then go your separate ways. Longer than a short story, it carries the burden of some degree of thought as well as action. Shorter than a novel, it’s granted permission to make its point without overindulgence in plot or characterization. Yet it still must meet the demands of fiction to create time and place and space where the reader can lose himself.

All those demands are met by Saul Bellow’s The Actual. Not surprisingly so, you probably assume. For certainly anyone who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Award (3 different times) must surely be able to turn out an appetizing novella. It’s not always the case. Often it’s more difficult to say something in a few words than a torrent of them.

The Actual is peopled with the old. The very old. The old in spirit. And those who are born old. The lovely thing about it though, is that it reaffirms what we all hope. That youth, however distant, is never forgotten. And while it can’t be recovered, it can be relied upon to make us feel that perhaps life was somewhat worthwhile after all.

The bare bones of the plot are these. A middle-aged fellow is taken into the inner circle of a man of immense wealth. He is valued by the rich man for his ability to observe what goes on between the lines. What happens when people are not speaking but reacting to things that have been said. Now that the old fellow is too ancient to make deals and build empires and rule vast armies of employees, he spends his time investing his energy in personal mergers and human acquisitions and the fallout they create. Within this orbit, the middle-aged man regains contact with his first love. Both have been married to others since they last saw each other, she, a couple of times. The intrigue, if you’re looking for some, is whether or not they’ll revive what they never really had in the first place. Or whether they’ll find something better. Or whether they’ll simply go their separate ways.

Of course, reading Saul Bellow for plot is usually a thankless affair. What really satisfies is his use of language, his insights into human nature, his descriptions of things real and imagined. The Actual takes place in Chicago, Bellow’s home for much of his life. There’s enough mention of Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast and the el (the elevated train) to ground you in the aura of one of the country’s most distinct cities. But it’s the people who populate the pages that make this novella memorable. The man who masks his emotions, the woman who can’t, the dead husband continuing to play tricks on his widow, friends and family, the elite who look for ways to do the impossible; to keep everything they have yet still be able to start all over again.

The Actual (of the title), Bellow would have you believe, is the sum of the feelings the story’s narrator has maintained for his unrequited love over the years. But you may, like The Fiction Fortune Hunter, find it’s really the author’s ability to create what he once said of art. “I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness amid the chaos.”

And Then…And Then…

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Reading an action/adventure novel is a bit of paradox, isn’t it? I mean, if one wants action and adventure, why is one curled up reading a novel? Surely it must be better to go out and do some physical roughhousing yourself, or at least take in a movie where there are visceral thrills like car chases, explosions, mayhem, etc. Well, the fact is, if you’ve see all the decent action films, and frankly there aren’t really all that many of them, and you’re up for some cerebral exercise to stimulate the senses, the genre of action/adventure novel can indeed give your brain a workout.

Never a big fan of the aforementioned literary category, I do from time to time dip into it just to work up a good sweat in my medulla oblongata. And frankly I must admit to increasing my blood pressure and heart rate a bit while reading Owen West’s Four Days To Veracruz. It’s one of those pulse-pounding, page-turning, chapter-pinballing tales we’ve all come to know and love in this age of Tom Clancy novels with hero’s like Jack Ryan, and TV shows like “24” with hero’s like Jack Bauer…wait a minute, do I detect a pattern here? Must all action/adventures have a hero named Jack? No. But don’t be surprised if most of them do.

As it is, there’s not one Jack that I can recall in Mr. West’s tale of a young honeymoon couple caught up in drug running, serial murder, terrorism, international intrigue and political infighting. And that brings up another point. Why do most action/adventure novels have to incorporate multilayered plots to hold the reader’s interest? Wouldn’t serial murder alone do the job? Perhaps not. Anyway, let me get my bone-picking out of the way first before I go on to tell you why I actually liked this novel and you might too.

Straining credulity is something virtually all action/adventures do. And to the degree the author can keep that to a minimum, the more successful he or she is. Mr. West puts it to the test right away. Not only are his hero and heroine young, breathtakingly beautiful and head-over-heels in love, they also both happen to be superb athletes. Both, like the author himself, Eco-challenge athletes, who chew up Iron Man competitions like they were romps in the park. Of course, this particular facet of the characters’ backstory is important because they are literally going to be chased (mostly on foot) from Acapulco (on the west side of Mexico) to Veracruz (on the east side of Mexico). And I guess if they were regular slobs like most of us, credulity would not only be strained, it would be blown to bits.

Okay, so credulity aside, there’s also a rather by-the-numbers plot. The youngsters get mixed up with narco bandits. Not their fault, of course. To keep from getting raped (her) and getting killed (him), they have to blast their way out of the bad guy’s lair. When they do, and escape to the police, would you believe the policeman in charge turns out to be the bandit’s brother. So, of course, they have to shoot their way out of the police station, killing Federales and bystanders alike, and take it on the lamb. The rest of their story involves a devastating hike across the continent to avoid police, military, bounty hunters, dogs, children, the rest of the narco gang and the serial killer who’s been co-opted by the corrupt Mexican authorities to track them down, kill them and retrieve the encrypted phone the heros took with them on the lamb. Are you with me so far? Okay, lets put it this way. None of this is the least bit believable.

But…after a while (like all good action/adventure novels) you don’t care if it’s believable or not. The author (himself an ex-Marine and Eco-challenge racer) steeps you in such minutia about the escapees’ bodies being pushed far beyond the limits of 99.9 percent of all human beings, you just sort of go with the flow. And, (as you must in these sort of tales) he brings in one of the nastiest villains ever to drench a book’s pages with blood. And of course, there’s a mole in the CIA, or the DEA, or Homeland Security who’s helping the bad guys from the inside. But you don’t know who he is until chapter 70-something. Yes, you have to have lots and lots of chapters in an action/adventure novel so you can set up a situation, re-tell it from five different points of view, and keep the reader hanging from one chapter to the next.

The truth is, while I got a bit weary in the middle, and I got a bit seasick at the end by the seemingly unending endings, I had a good time. And isn’t that the real objective of an action/adventure novel. If it isn’t, it ought to be. The Fiction Fortune Hunter says thumbs up to Owen West’s Four Days To Veracruz. Just be careful that the thumb isn’t shot off, or lopped off, or…oh well, you get it.