Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Dirty Harry #01 - Duel for Cannons

I’d put off reading this for nearly a year because I had a premonition that it wouldn’t be very good. I was right.

A vacationing Texas lawman gets gunned down in California, and “Dirty Harry” Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department thinks it was an assassination. It was indeed, and as Harry investigates further, a big conspiracy emerges involving an evil Texas businessman who’s got the whole San Antonio police department on his payroll, including its crooked chief. Those who don’t go along get killed by the businessman’s favorite assassin. Harry goes after them all, and you can guess how things end up.

The story has potential, and Dirty Harry is a terrific character, but somehow this book never got in gear for me. I didn’t care for the style of author Ric Meyers (using the name Dane Hartman), who writes as if he’s reading a screenplay and adapting it shot-by-shot into a novel. The result is that action sequences go on way too long, with lengthy descriptions of the physical landscape and details of each participant’s every motion. It’s always way more information than you need. For example, the book opens with the assassin killing that vacationing lawman. That simple sequence takes fourteen pages to describe.

Most of the story takes place in San Antonio, where Harry tries to rescue its last remaining honest lawman, who’s been kidnapped by the villains. This leads to a series of drawn-out gun battles in which nothing gets resolved. It also leads to Harry sleeping with the lawman’s worried wife (huh?), which I guess gives him something to do between gunfights. 

Weirdly, Harry then teams up with the assassin to invade the businessman’s mansion and kill him. After that battle, there’s a brief layover until the book’s final shoot-out, in which Harry and the assassin try to kill each other. This occurs at the Alamo, apparently after the tourists have gone home but before anyone locks up for the night, as Harry walks right through the front door for his gunfight appointment.

What follows is a lot of shooting until the ammo runs low, and then we come to the one scene in the book that I loved. It’s a reversal of the famous scene in the original movie, in which Harry levels his Magnum at a cringing low-life and gives that little speech ending with “You have to ask yourself a question: do I feel lucky?” This time it’s Harry who’s looking up at that lethal barrel, and it’s a terrific scene. Unfortunately we have to slog through 98.5% of an uninspired book to get there, but at least there’s that.