(Note: Phil has suggested that, in honor of Andrew Klavan’s new release, Empire of Lies (which I’m reading now with great pleasure), I should repost my previous reviews on his work. That sounds like a very wise and thoughtful suggestion, but–more important–it means less work for me. So herewith, from my entry for May 16, 2006 on the old blog site, is my first Klavan review. This one concentrates on his blockbusters, True Crime and Don’t Say a Word.)
Back in the 90s I discovered an excellent mystery writer named Keith Peterson. His novels about reporter John Wells were exciting and smart, but the thing I really loved about them was that Peterson created characters I could really care about. I think I’ve said this before (and I’m sure I’ll say it again) but sympathetic characters are the thing I most require in a book.
Then Peterson just disappeared. (Actually there were a couple more Peterson books, but I missed them). I looked wistfully now and then at my John Wells novels, which I’d hung on to.
Recently I did a web search on Keith Peterson and made a wonderful discovery. Keith Peterson was a nom de plume for Andrew Klavan, the big thriller writer.
That took me to the used bookstore, and… wow. I mean, wow.
I like thrillers, and I have a short list of excellent authors whose books I watch for on a regular basis. I feel tiny but genuine joy when they’re “new in paperback.”
But none of them knows his craft like Andrew Klavan.
Klavan grabs you by the throat, shoves you into his car, throttles it up to 120 miles an hour, and ignores the stoplights as he carries you with him, terrified in the passenger seat(rather like the actual experience of one character in True Crime). Just to keep your attention, he makes sure he has your firstborn child in the back seat, with no seatbelt. I’ve never really found any book un-put-downable in a literal sense, but Klavan comes close.
Not for Klavan the barely believable male fantasy-figure hero, the Travis McGee or the Lucas Davenport. His heroes are very much like you and me (or worse). Steve Everett, the reporter hero of True Crime, works in St. Louis because he lost his New York job for sleeping with the boss’s daughter. He drinks too much and smokes too much, and he’s now sleeping with his current boss’s wife. His marriage (not surprisingly) is rocky, and he’s not doing very well as a father to his little son. When he realizes that the death row inmate he’s been assigned to interview may very well be innocent, he has only one day to find evidence to save the man’s life. He breaks all the rules and many traffic laws in what looks from the beginning like a doomed attempt.
Dr. Nathan Conrad, the hero of Don’t Say a Word, is, to put it plainly, a wimp. He’s a skinny and balding psychiatrist with a bad knee and a bad eye. When his daughter is kidnapped, he’s forced to find a clue in the mind of a female patient, and in the end his intelligence and his love for his family are the only weapons he has against enemies who are genuinely, appallingly evil.
The word “evil” is important here. Klavan knows there is real evil in the world. His sympathy for his characters doesn’t keep him from making moral judgments on them. We may all have our flaws, but there is a line between darkness and light, and we all choose the side on which we stand.
This is a kind of “nuance” that liberal Hollywood doesn’t comprehend. I haven’t seen the movie versions of either True Crime or Don’t Say a Word, but the reviews I’ve read indicate that the moviemakers couldn’t grasp Klavan’s moral vision and fell, inevitably, into their own stereotypes.
In True Crime (the novel), for instance, the condemned man the hero tried to save was a white man who’d been railroaded because the County Attorney needed a sacrificial lamb to quiet complaints about the percentage of blacks on Death Row. That was one nuance too many for the moviemakers. They changed the prisoner to a black man.
The movie version of Don’t Say a Word starred Michael Douglas. That was the first mistake. Right there they sacrificed Dr. Conrad’s Everyman quality. There’s no surprise when Michael Douglas fights the bad guys.
The cop in that book was a big, fat, flatulent Irishman, lecherous and slightly corrupt. But when the chips were down, he turned out to be just the guy who was needed in the situation.
In the movie they turned him into a Hispanic woman.
Need I say more?
Andrew Klavan is a conservative, and he blogs now and then at Libertas blog. I don’t know what his religious beliefs are*. He wrote a novel once (Son of Man) that sounds blasphemous. Ordinarily I wouldn’t forgive that in an author (Shoot, I abandoned Ed McBain forever after one crack about pro-lifers in one of the 87th Precinct novels).
But I’m sticking with Klavan.
I almost have no choice.
*He’s a Christian, as will be documented further on in this series. ljw