The Hard Way By Lee Child

Jack Reacher is a drifter. He’s a man with a past that’s actually not all that exciting, at least until the end of his Army career.  In the Army, he banked all his cash and now drifts from city to city leaving as little evidence of his presence as possible.  And, of course, he usually finds a way to utilize his talents as a former MP.

In this case, he’s sitting at a cafe in Manhattan, minding his own business, when a man comes up to him and asks about someone who drove a Jaguar off the night before.  Reacher remembers him, so he’s taken to the Dakota apartment (Yes, that Dakota.  And yes, Yoko Ono makes a very brief cameo) of Edward Lane.  Lane is a wealthy man, so wealthy, he can pass out bricks of hundred-dollar bills amounting to tens of thousands of dollars each.  And Lane’s willing to pay it to get his wife and step-daughter back.  Why?

Because Lane’s first wife was kidnapped and murdered five years earlier.  But Lane’s being watched by his ex-sister-in-law.  And while he blames the FBI for botching the job, the agent in charge, Pauling, blames herself.  She’s now a private investigator who would do anything to find the real story behind Anne Lane’s murder.

Lane hires Reacher.  After all, his employees are all ex-Special Forces from the US and Britain.  See, Lane’s business involves mercenaries for hire, though Lane calls them “contractors.”  And he’d like his business kept off the books, not that the Pentagon minds.  They might, however, mind where some of Lane’s contracts came from and how he was paid, namely in cash under the table.  Lots of cash.  Like a safe filled with twenty million in US currency.

But as fans of the Reacher series know, not everything is as it should be.  Sometimes, Reacher goes after his employer, often for reasons of his own.  He doesn’t trust Edward Lane, and the only ace in the hole is that he can disappear in an instant, leaving behind only the chain store clothes he buys and discards in each town.  Lane trusts him, if only because Lane needs men to command like some people need a few drinks to get through the day.

Child takes Reacher and Pauling all over Manhattan and eventually to England in pursuit of Mrs. Lane’s kidnappers, as well as the kidnapped.  Lane is right behind him with bags of money to make whatever needs to happen happen.  But not all is going to go Lane’s way.  Reacher has found out how Lane obtained his pile of cash.  And he intends to make Lane pay restitution, even if it means by blood.

Child is in his usual form.  Reacher is a quiet, somewhat emotionless man.  Nothing fazes him.  His almost supernatural sense of time – he knows exactly what time it is despite never looking at a watch or clock at any given moment – is in full effect here.  Where Child stretches things is when Reacher goes off on his own early in the novel.  It strains credibility a bit when he’s so easily able to ditch the paranoid Lane for long periods, then explain himself away.  Still, Child does what he does best here.  He describes a scene in cinematic detail and twists the story around so many times that the reader is guaranteed not to know what is truly happening until the final chapters.

Blazing Saddles

My parents were very nervous about me watching Blazing Saddles as a kid.  Why?  Well, for its time, Mel Brooks’ western spoof was probably the foulest mouthed movie released to date.  There were certain words that almost any PG-13 movie today has in greater abundance.  And then there was one word that has surpassed the F bomb in its lethality and level of taboo.

The N word.

The N word is used in Blazing Saddles more often than an episode of The Wire.  And yet I’m not offended.  Why?  It’s pretty clear that Brooks told his actors, “Okay, think of the most ignorant, bigoted person you know, and turn them into the punchline they deserve to be.”  Plus, the script, concerning a black sheriff in an 1876 western town under siege by a greedy attorney general looking to steal their land, was co-written by Richard Pryor.

Sadly, the word “shit,” which appears just as often as the N word in the movie, raised more objections at Warner Brothers than the N Word.  An aside here.  Why is “shit” a dirty word?  It’s nowhere near as disgusting as some of its synonyms, and a lot more useful.

But Blazing Saddles is a comedy classic that cannot be remade.  I would have said a few years ago (and did, in fact) that only Dave Chapelle or Carlos Mencia could pull it off, but now, I’d be hard pressed to see how.  The movie is one of those classic Brooks joke fests full of sight gags, anachronisms, brutally explicit double-entender, and plain absurdity that opened the door for movies like Airplane.  Cleavon Little is brilliant in the role of Bart, the condemned railroad worker who is given a reprieve and made sheriff of a town full of, as Gene Wilder puts it, “the common clay of the New West.  You know.  Morons.”  It is the townsfolk and the uncouth, rowdy desperadoes trying to drive them out that spew the N bomb.  And Bart, along with Wilder’s gunslinger, Jim (but most folks call him…  “Jim”), makes fools of them all.  Their nemesis, and that of the ignorant townsfolk?  Attorney General Hedley Lamar.  (Hey, it’s 1876!  He can sue her!*)  He’s played by the effeminate, yet lecherous, Harvey Korman, who makes the Emperor from Star Wars look like a playground bully.  His sidekick is the dimwitted Taggart, played by Slim Pickens, who, up until then, was best-known for riding a nuclear bomb all the way to its detonation at the end of Dr. Strangelove (another classic in absurdity.)

Yes, Blazing Saddles is offensive and deliberately so.  To illustrate how well the movie has played its part in remaking race relations, let me tell you about how I introduced Nita to the movie.  She never saw it until a few weeks ago.  I saw it as a kid.  So I thought the movie was hysterical.  Nita couldn’t get past the N bombs and didn’t like it.

That’s as it should be.  If the final result of Blazing Saddles is that you cannot remake Blazing Saddles or show it to newer audiences because it offends our racial sensitivities, it’s done its job in ridiculing those very people who make the movie the absurd masterpiece that it is.

Besides, how can you go wrong with a movie where Alex Karras decks a horse?

*Actually, actress Heddy Lamar sued Brooks when the movie came out.  They settled.

For Dave…

I met Dave and McKenna at the Chicago Bouchercon in 2005.  All the way up to Chicago and back, I played the Foo Fighters In Your Honor over and over.  This song in particular sticks in my head from that trip. I only met Dave a handful of times over the years, but the impression he and McKenna made has attached this song to him in my memory now.

You can’t go wrong leaving the Foos in someone’s head on your way out.

So long, and don’t be a stranger next time around.

Sad News

This via Bill Crider’s blog and Tyrus Books.  David Thompson, manager of Houston’s Murder By the Book and founder of Busted Flush Press, passed away yesterday.

I met David and McKenna at Bouchercon in 2005.  They were some of the first bookstore owners I dealt with and always found them friendly.  Plus Busted Flush was one of David’s most brilliant creations.  He will be missed.

Road Rules Is Now Downloadable!

I tweeted this over the weekend, but since Tuesday is my usual day to post ebookery stuff, I’ll say it again here.  Road Rules is now downloadable for your Kindle, Nook, Sony, or iPad, or even your mobile device if you like.

Some things about this new version:

  • I have no plans to revisit the audio version.  Too much work.  So the audio rights – as well as print, film, comic book, etc. – are for sale.  The electronic rights are not.
  • Fanfic is okay.  Fanfic for profit will earn you either a nasty-gram from my lawyer or my size thirteen up your ass, depending on who gets to you first.  So play with it, but I reserve the right to kick you out of the sandbox if the whim strikes me or you make a buck.  This is free.  Keep it that way.
  • Road Rules in its electronic format will remain free until at least 2012.
  • I have absolutely no plans under current conditions to upload to Smashwords or Amazon.
  • Yes, the web site looks clunky.  I plan to work on it more.
  • An HTML only version will be up soon.  It will include a style sheet that formats that chapters for mobile devices, which was the impetus for doing this free anyway.
  • Road Rules even has its own Facebook page!  But no Twitter account.  I barely keep up my personal Twitter account.
  • Enjoy

MTM Monday: Bengals Football

It’s that time of year again.  The NFL season is upon us, and for the first time in many, many years (like before I lived in Cincinnati, which began in 1991), people here are actually optimistic.  Last season, the Bengals pulled it together and showed what they were really made of.  They also displayed some weaknesses, which have been addressed in the off-season.

Bengals logo

Cincinnati Bengals

Last year, the Bengals could do no wrong for the first 3/4 of the season.  Former perennial suspect Chris Henry had his life turned around and was showing Coach Marvin Lewis why it was worth it to bring him back.  But a broken arm ended his season early.  Then Henry, affectionately known as “Slim” to his teammates, fell out of a pickup truck.  Doctors later suspected his behavior and his ability to withstand the fall might have been compromised by a concussion earlier in the season that was more serious than they originally thought.

Couple that with the death of the wife of Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer, and the wind went right out of the Bengals sails.  That much tragedy would have derailed the 1972 Dolphins or any of the 1970’s Steelers teams, if you want to be honest.

But Carson Palmer was back in form.  Chad Ochocinco found the dividing line between his antics and his playing.  Then there’s Cedric Benson, a one-time cast-off from the Chicago Bears out to prove himself.  Benson did prove himself, and the Bengals had something they haven’t had in almost two decades:  A running game.

In the off-season, the Bengals made a couple of risky moves.  To replace Henry, they hired an equally high-risk player who famously had trouble staying out of the backs of police cruiser, Adam “Pac Man” Jones.  Then they hired Ochocinco’s pal and fellow reality star, Terrell “TO” Owens.

Pac Man has been a non-entity off the field.  In fact, today, I’d forgotten he’d joined the team.  (See?  HBO needs to bring Hard Knocks back to Cincinnati.)  TO has taken up the spotlight, letting the players focus on being players.  So how’s that working?

Well, yesterday was the season opener against New England.  The Bengals decided not to show up for the first half.  Actually, that’s not fair.  One of the reasons the Patriots have lasted as long as they have is their defense.  They already figured out how to shut down Palmer, which is to cover Chad and TO.  But then came the second half, and the Bengals showed up.  They also showed that the Pats are not all that invincible these days.  But you don’t go into the second half down by 21 points and expect to win.  I don’t care if you’re playing the Cleveland Browns, the Raiders, or even Deer Park High School (whom I just watched nearly pull out an upset only to get stuffed in the final two minutes of their home opener.)  You just don’t.  Period.  You can be the Cleveland Browns of the 1960’s, Broadway Joe’s Jets, the 72 Dolphins, or even the current Patriots at their peak.  He who is down 21 points at the end of the first half loses the game.

That said, the Pats looked tired after the first half, and Palmer and Benson finally hit their stride.  He found TO, Chad, Pac Man, and a couple of rookies whose names escape me now.  Benson found his way up the middle.  And flags flew on both sides.  Penalties may be stupid, but that’s how you know the players actually give a damn that they’re on the field.

It’s good to get excited about football again.  It’s good to know we’re playing all the number ones in the AFC this season:  New England, San Diego, and Indianapolis.  And I almost feel sorry for the Ravens next week.

Almost.

They did, after all, steal my original team.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

Nine Years Later

  • It was probably the most horrible day of my life so far.  (I’ve had two that were more horrible to me personally since.)  The most horrible day of most Americans’ lives.
  • WEBN dropped the usual “It’s Friiiiidaaaaay!!!!” 5:00 kickoff to the weekend that week.  Instead, the guy who does the opening yell just said, “Three thousand people gone.  Why?”  Instead of Metallica or AC/DC blasting the weekend in, they played Don Henley’s “New York Minute.”  I had to pull the car over so I could cry.  To this day, I can’t listen to that song without bursting into tears.
  • I first went to Ground Zero in 2005.  It was a Sunday morning, my first weekend in New York City ever, and I was meeting Charlie Stella for breakfast.  I was supposed to have lunch with another friend.  Charlie asked, “Where do you want to hang out?”  I decided to face the music.  “Drop me off at Ground Zero.”  Charlie took me down the FDR and dropped me off.  My jaw dropped.  It was a neat hole in the ground in the heart of the business district, looking like a construction site not unlike the Queen City Square site was in the beginning.  All I could do was stare into the hole and go, “My God!”
  • In the years since then, I have refused to succumb to the urge to blame all Muslims for the destruction of the World Trade Center, part of the Pentagon, and a plane in my ancestral home in Pennsylvania.  To me, that’s giving al Qaeda exactly what they want.  I’ve had people quote (literally) chapter and verse from the Quran to justify their hatred of Muslims.  To which I point out that many of the “point of a sword” verses explicitly exempt “people of the Book.”  Who are those people?  Jews.  Christians.  Druse.  Based on that alone, Osama bin-Laden and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad are heretics.
  • Even nine years later, a sky with no planes, particularly since I lived up the hill from Lunken Airport, still gives me chills.  I was born in the 1960’s.  My sky always had planes in it.
  • We’re still here.  The only thing that changed was that most people realized the world is a scary, dangerous place.  I figured that one out when Ronald Reagan decided to play nuclear chicken with three decrepit Bolsheviks.  For 11 years, I worked across the street from the Federal Building, next door to the Federal Courthouse, and two blocks up from the Federal Reserve Bank.  I generally assumed if the Very Bad Thing happened to me, I wouldn’t be around long enough to know about it.
  • Anyone who was over the age of twelve in 1990 knows what a high the fall of the Berlin Wall was, especially if you lived in Germany.  (“Wait!  I can drive to Berlin without a cavity search?  Greta, gas up the Benz!  Road trip!”)  Everyone remembers what a sickening kick in the gut 9/11 was.  There will be other tragedies.  But there will be other V-J Days and moon landings and Berlin Wall falls.
  • In the past decade, many people embraced fear.  Over the past decade, I learned to reject.  Guess what.  I win.  The terrorists lose.
  • Many people who were shell-shocked on that terrible day said, “Nothing will ever be funny again.”  I rejected that as well.  Humor was my best defense mechanism.  After all, it’s people with no sense of humor who killed three thousand people that day.  And I firmly believe anyone without a sense of humor is already rotting in hell.