Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wheelmen Don't Eat Quiche

How much physical punishment are the lead characters in a thriller supposed to absorb before they collapse, die, or have to spend months in hospital getting skin grafts and reconstructive surgery?

In Duane Swierczynski’s first novel, just out in paperback to coincide with his latest hardcover, The Blonde, Patrick Lennon – an Irish criminal currently working in Philadelphia -- is so smashed up, punctured, shot and mutilated that at every page turn we expect to find him lying in a whimpering heap on the ground. But minutes later, after a deep breath or two and a check of his pulse through his carotid artery, he’s back for more punishment.

Lennon doesn’t curse or scream out loud during any of this, either -- because he lost his voice to a bullet during an armed robbery some years before. An expert driver, Lennon is part of a three-man team intent on removing from a bank the $650,000 in cash which the Mayor plans to use as a political gesture to revitalize a rundown neighborhood. The robbery itself goes down smoothly, and we learn how to get a couple of crooks out of a bank’s access-control unit which supposedly locks them in the revolving door but can be deactivated by smashing an Acura head on into it – a fact probably learned by the author when he did the research for his non-fiction book, This Here’s A Stick-Up.

But (wouldn’t you know it?) somebody else also has their eyes on the loot and knows Lennon’s getaway plan: he and his two colleagues are treated extremely badly, smashed into by a van, stuffed naked down some drainage pipes, things like that. Only Lennon survives, and expends his rudely-treated body and mind on finding out who.

Swierczynski has an uncommon gift for the banal lunacy of criminal dialogue, a delightfully devious eye for character, and a surprisingly well-developed narrative engine for a beginner. I hope he also has a good health insurance plan which he can share with his hero...