Monday, July 03, 2006

As everyone from Thomas Harris, begetter of Hannibal Lector, to Dan Brown can attest, creating a believable villain is the hardest work in the artistic world. How many recent thrillers have been spoiled--or almost derailed--by a character who won't come alive on the page, or who immediately goes over the top into the credibility gap?

All of which makes Neil McMahon's success with one of the main characters in his fourth book about Dr. Carroll Monks--a doctor who just can't stay out of trouble--so stunning. McMahon pulls off the virtually unthinkable here: He creates a terrorist so authentically motivated that he quickly becomes touchingly real.
Freeboot, as the leader of a band of drugged-out, deranged outlaws who live on an isolated tract of land deep in the mountains of Northern California calls himself, is a true lunatic of epic dimensions, a "macho speed freak who dominat-ed his followers, made allusions to Machiavelli, and hinted at the grandiose importance that he would enjoy in the eyes of history." These things are necessary but not sufficient to explain the immediate fascination we have with Freeboot, nor the unmistakable shiver of sympathy we feel wen we hear him speak.
In McMahon's assured hands, the duel between the rational, scientific doctor and the fascinating, frightening Freeboot--who fizzes with rampant electricity like a short circuit--is an absolutely riveting read.