Tanner On Ice
Lawrence Block (No Exit £10)
James Bond had it easy compared to Evan Tanner. From 1966’s The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep through to his last adventures in the early 705, the Korean War veteran could be found smuggling a female Russian Olympic team out from behind the Iron Curtain, imprisoned in a brutal Turkish prison pre-Midnight Express, or buried alive beneath the soil of a newly independent African nation.
Tanner's creator, Lawrence Block, had spent the 605 writing tough little thrillers filled with petty crooks, grifters and femmes fatales galore. Later, Block would make his name with the Matt Scudder series of detective novels, interspersed with another more playful set featuring the charming bookseller- burglar, Bernie Rhodenbarr.
Tanner was a reluctant amateur spy, the member of countless organisations dedicated to lost causes. Because a piece of Korean shrapnel had damaged the sleep centre in his brain, he never needed so much as forty winks, and so the multi-lingual Tanner could cram into 24 hours each day what the rest of us could literally only dream of doing.
Now, a quarter of a century after
Lawrence Block: cool customer
Tanner last found himself in an inexplicably hostile situation, Block has again put pen to paper. In Tanner On Ice, he immediately finds himself in his strangest predicament yet: drugged by a Swedish monarchist, cryogenically frozen in a New Jersey basement, and eventually thawed out to marvel at the modern world before heading off to destabilise the military government in Burma.
'I didn’t want him to be as old as he would be in ordinary circumstances,’ explains Block, who caught the Tanner bug again when an American publisher decided to re-issue the early books. ‘He'd be well up into his mid-60$, and I thought that would be a little old for him to be having the kind of adventures he had.’
Block doesn't, however, overdo the out-of-time
comedy of, say, Austin Powers. Tanner quickly gets up to speed and back in the thick of it. Interestingly, though, the political map has changed considerably since he was last abroad and even some of the ideals he once held — pipe dreams about small European countries regaining independence — have come true.
'My wife and l were in Macedonia briefly this spring and I thought, this is where Tanner was, but I'd never been there before,’ explains Block who, of course, used to do most of his research on Communist countries from the comfort of an American library. 'Afterwards, we took a train through Serbia, but we didn’t have the proper visa required, and there was a long hold-up at the border. This was rather more of a Tanner moment than I wanted to have.’ (Alan Morrison)
A Man in Full
AMERICAN EPIC A Man In Full Tom Wolfe (Cape £20) a .+ it
Evangelrst of the New Journalism, darling of the New Rrght, and the orrgrnal Man rn the Dapper Whrte Surt, Tom Wolfe has always attempted to be one wave ahead of everybody else when rt comes to surfing the Zertgerst. In The Bonfire Of The Vanities, he summed up the madness of the Reagan years. Now, rn A Man In Full, he takes on (ilrnton’s Amerrca ~ nervous, rnsecure, and torn apart by rssues of race and sex.
And thrs rs very much an attempt at the Very Brg Amerrc'an Novel. Over 700 pages long, rt's really three books rn one, In the first strand of the tale, legendary redneck busrnessrnan Charlre Croker faces bankruptcy. In the second, Iegerrdary black athlete Fareek Fanon faces a rape charge. And frnally, the
drstrnctly not legendary Conrad Hensley rs wroneg rmprrsoned, and trres to escape,
As you would well rmagrne, all these stones are eventually brought together, but there's a sense of strarn Wolfe rs so desperate to touch on every contemporary rssue (whrte collar crrrrre, racrsrrr, hornosexualrty, polrtrcal correctness) rt sometrmes feels Irke he’s got a checklrst and can trck them off when they've been rrrentroned.
On the plus srde, thrs rs far better wrrtten than your common and garden blockbuster, and Wolfe has obvrously done hrs research. There are few contemporary novelrsts who grve you such a strong sense of what modern Amerrca rs really Irke. Ultimately, the book's real farlrng rs over-ambrtron But then, rsn’t that what Amerrca's all about.7 (Brendan Wallace)
Putting debut authors under the microscope. This issue: Christopher Wallace
Who he? Chrrstopher Wallace was born rn Cologne Wrth Sc ottrslr and Englrsh parentage and brought up rn Glasgow He studied Management
Sc rerrce at Strrlrng and rs currently an Account Drrec tor for ad agency Barkers. He dec rde to write when the urge to express on the page overcame hrs natural rndolence
His debut It‘s called The Pied Piper’s Poison and detarls a y0ung, narve Scottrslr doctor, Robert Watt, havrng hrs youth and narvete hammered out of hrm when he rs sent to a Polrsh refugee camp rn 1946. The resrdents may erther be vrc trms of horrrfrc rnedrcal experrmentatron or sufferrng from somethrng much more profound wrthrn the human psyche, whrc h may or may not be related to The Pred Prper of Hamelrn myth. One crrtrc called the book a mrx of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Lync h's Twin Peaks and Sriskrnd's Perfume. Not the krnd of corrrparrsons whrch harm sales.
Basically Basrcally, rt's a hrstorrcal drama, strrrrrrg romance, tale of trust and grand allegory, all rolled rnto one crackrng narratrve.
First line test ’I have no choice but to return to those eyes watchrng me.’ Laugh ratio Not a rnrllrorr of them, It has to be sard. There rs one near the start when our hero rs asked whether he has ever been a Communrst at wh:c h he muses that the creed hadn’t gurte reached Helensburgh and engurres whether the Boys Brrgacle rs a banned organrsatron.
For whom the book is credited 'For everyone and Elvrs.’
What's next? Hrs second novel wrll be based around Edrnburgh’s macabre past grave-robbrng, Burke and Hare and rts macabre present strange gorngs-on rn the avant-tlreatre of the Festrval. (Brran Donaldson)
M The Pied Piper's Poison paperback is published by Flamingo at [7. 99.
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1‘) Nov 3 Dec 1998 THE “ST 115