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Douglas E. Winter

Alfred A. Knopf / Random House

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-375-40838-X

Publication Date: 03-07-2000

259 Pages; $23.00

Date Reviewed: 01-29-03

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2003



Mystery, General Fiction, Horror

Writers can ride a riff every bit as easily as can musicians. From "Call me Ishmael" to "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel", writers who get a strong voice speaking and keep it up have sucked in readers whether they cared about the subject or not. Douglas Winter is a Washington DC attorney who has been moonlighting as a horror writer and editor for many years. As a writer, he made his mark in horror fiction with a series of very clever and hilarious satires of the New Yawk literati bad-boy novels of the 1980's and 1990's. He recast such pan flashes as 'Bright Lights Big City' and 'Less Than Zero' into a world overrun with George Romero's zombies from 'Night of the Living Dead'. He came up with short stories like 'Bright Lights Big Zombie', and 'Less Than Zombie'. In those stories, his language was so highly controlled and so perfectly cast that they transcended satire and entered an almost ethereal realm of hilarity and literary observation. His first novel, 'Run' displays a similar control of language, a similarly grim sense of humor and enough skill to scare the heavies he portrays with deadly accuracy. On the first page Burdon Lane starts telling his story, and readers who can stomach the violence will be hard pressed to put it down.

'Run' is a twisty big-screen thriller about gun-running between states. Burdon Lane is a "businessman" who uses his job with a legitimate arms dealer to bring weapons where they don't belong. When Winter opens the novel, the reader is nailed to the page by hiss witty, direct prose. If you like Burdon Lane's voice, you're likely to love this novel. For Burdon, this week's run is supposed to be like any other. But it ends up in a firefight, and Burdon finds himself in an uneasy alliance with a gang-banger named Jinx. As the fire pit deepens, Burdon finds that companions, cops and crooks are not who they pretend to be. Soon the question becomes, just who is Burdon Lane and what is he capable of? From the opening scenes, we already know that he's capable of some pretty heinous acts.

Winter has clearly done a boatload of research. His prose is confident beyond compare. Readers will buy every feeling, every move that Burdon makes because Winter writes it with a natural cheetah-like grace. These details also keep the novel interesting on two levels. On one hand, the revelations about America's gun culture --even to those in the know -- are fascinating and complex. We see the nuts and bolts of both the legal and illegal aspects of producing and selling weapons in America. Prepare to have your Second Amendment bubble burst. Winter's a DC attorney. This is may not the nicest thing to be, but it's clearly a good way to get to know the kind of stuff he's writing about here. 'Run' has all the rewards of a well-researched novel.

All this detail also lends itself to the many twists and turns this novel takes. With every revelation comes more skullduggery, with every new fact comes a new fate. Winter pumps up the paranoia with corporate criminals, government thugs and political pimps. Each time the reader learns something new is an opportunity for Winter to throw another monkey wrench in Burdon's rapidly unraveling plans. Since the whole novel takes place in one straight bout of action, plenty of turns are needed and plenty are taken.

Winter is slightly less successful with his evocation of the gang-banging culture. Jinx and the U Street Crew, alas, just cannot compete with the veracity he brings to Burdon Lane. While the quality dip never stops the show, it does come to light. However, this mostly a result of the purity of Burdon Lane's rap, and Winter wisely sticks with Burdon Lane even when we're banging about.

Just to give readers an idea of the prose here, I'm going to quote the opening sentence:

"So we're shaking down this Dickie Mullen guy, and the guy's your usual suburban shoot-shop owner, talks the talk about home defense and hunting season, spreads out copies of Guns& Ammo and Soldier of Fortune, sells crappy .38s to concerned hubbies and housewives and all the while he's dressed up in the red, the white, the blue, it's the grand old fucking flag."

Burdon's --and Winter's 'Run' is a break-neck (and lots of other things) thriller with a lot more of a brain than the usual shoot-em-up. It really leaps off the page and onto the reader's personal big-screen, which, in the novel's denouement, becomes something of a problem. Like a big-budget action thriller, the volume seems a little bit too loud, even though it's a really rockin' good time. But that's merely the last two seconds of a 259 page blast to the brain; the eye-burning finish to a meth-amphetamine overdose. Like good speed freaks, readers won't know what hits them even as their hearts burn out.