By Ray Sawhill
Has Mike Hammer seen the light and joined Al Gore’s staff?
Douglas E. Winter’s first novel is an example of what might be thought of as a micro-subgenre: the hard-boiled, apocalyptic thriller with a liberal agenda. It’s a condemnation of what Winter clearly sees as America’s insanely permissive laws concerning firearms.
Burdon Lane, his protagonist, is a middle-level errand-runner for a shady gun operation in Washington. Valued for his toughness and ability to keep a low profile, he’s part of a team making a huge delivery of weaponry to a New York City street gang. Things, from Lane’s point of view at least, rapidly start to go wrong.
Winter shows an amusing ability to turn descriptions of firearms into demented arias, and a talent for cooking up interlocking conspiracies. He may be optimistic about the number of times all hell should break loose in the course of a single thriller, and he may also have misjudged how many bitterly ironic cracks about ”the American dream” his book needed.
But what makes the novel a chore to get through is the ”Natural Born Killers” manner in which he has told his story; hyped-up and full of hallucinatory effects, the voice seems electronically processed rather than written. Even granting that he’s making a point, most readers will want to ask this of Winter and his publisher: Has there ever been a person who, when in the mood for a video-game-style nerve jangling, has reached for a novel instead? If there is such a person, this is the book for him.
© Ray Sawhill 2001. First appeared in The New York Times Book Review Section.