Thursday, April 30, 2015

Capital Punishment: Charles Boxer #1 by Robert Wilson

This is an interesting novel, if not always for the reasons Wilson hoped. It had me thinking back to my experience reading the new Richard Price novel, The Whites. Price admitted that he wrote that novel under the pen name Harry Brandt because, strapped for cash, he needed to write a pot-boiler that would sell fast and well. He wanted to keep his legacy as a literary writer under the name Price intact, but was finding it costing him audience.

Fortunately or not, Price’s Harry Brandt novel is a deeply plotted, psychologically dense, character-driven novel not unlike earlier Price novels. He missed his mark. The Whites is emphatically not a pot-boiler. Wilson may be feeling some of the same pressures. He seems to be trying something completely different in this first novel of a new series. He calls this work a “thriller” as opposed to characterizations of his earlier work as “crime” or “mystery.” I note that thrillers have evolved with the times: plots must be as sophisticated as the world is now, and readers must be willing to put up with what was previously thought to be unreasonable complexity. Life is complicated.

Charlie Boxer is a private security consultant based in London. He is hired to deal with the kidnapping of the adult daughter of an Indian billionaire business magnate in London just before the Olympic Games. Once word gets out, every far-flung contact of the billionaire is suspected and suspicious: they find themselves looking for their own advantage while looking at allies and enemies within and without their own organizations for perpetrators. The only thing we know for sure is that Charlie Boxer seems out of his depth with both the billionaire and the billionaire’s ex-wife.

This thriller actually has very little action and a whole lot of revenge plotting going on. The complexity becomes amusing. Wilson knew very well what he was doing by layering one set of potential kidnappers on the others, along with their attendant informants, security personnel, and hangers-on. The violence is fierce and gratuitous. As the body count mounts, readers might find themselves placing bets on which set of thugs will kill the others and would the overseas set arrive in time to participate in the melee? The whole circus became a murderous joke, all centered about a smart, beautiful 25-year old woman who made mincemeat of the men she encountered. It’s a riot, in all senses of the word.

That having been said, there were times when I wondered if I were the only one in on the joke. The first false note—Boxer falling into bed with his client, the wife of the kidnapped girl--had me curious what Wilson was thinking. As the number of investigators and their targets multiplied, I began to think of the whole construction as tongue-in-cheek. Wilson didn’t try to obscure the seams. It was a nightmare of connections and hitmen. I began to enjoy the ride to see how it would all unravel.

One character I wanted to survive the damage was Dan, alias for a nurse with an addiction that sent him to jail for a couple years, wrecking his legitimate career but placing him on the payroll of a thug lord. His restraint, sincerity, gullibility, skills, and skepticism made a complex character. A very good series could be made out of his adventures in the underworld. I note we did not get a sufficient description of his death.

In what becomes a large piece of the action, an Afghan terror group sidesteps the Indian Mafia (both Hindi and Muslim factions), the Pakistani Military Intelligence, and London’s drug lords and lowlifes to mix it up with MI5, MI6, the anti-terror units of the military, and the police. When Wilson tells us in his Acknowledgements that writing is the most "exquisite torture" but that sometimes one hits a gusher, our smile of recognition hides a wince. Yes, we agree, but perhaps we don’t need the whole nightmare.

Another thread, if one were needed, is the backstory of Charlie Boxer. He still works with his ex-wife and his daughter is an opinionated teenaged terror at seventeen. Apparently it is this thread that continues in the second novel in this series, You Will Never Find Me, due out next month.

Robert Wilson is an author I have followed from Africa to Seville to London. I have enormous respect for his talents. Wilson places the following in the mouth of one of his characters in this novel:
"The sad thing about goodness is that is it’s bland. Evil has the power to provoke extraordinary emotions. And we’re drawn to the excitement of the extreme, rather than the dullness of the everyday."
Wilson writes thrillers now. His earlier mysteries were more literary, but time marches on. He must feel the pull, like Richard Price, of financial considerations, eyeballs on the page, a larger audience. Unless Wilson meant to be humorous, I think he missed the mark on this thriller. It was complex--perhaps too much so. It was difficult to suspend disbelief.

Wilson has the talent and experience now to write whatever he decides he wants to write. If he has fun and satisfaction and lack of angst from writing novels like this, I totally understand. I don’t want to put the kibosh on a successful literary franchise. But Wilson is one who could go deep, if he wanted, on a literary thriller. I’ll probably check in regardless.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

No comments:

Post a Comment