Thursday, April 13, 2006

No Wine Before Its Time

Fever, by Sean Rowe, Read by William Dufris, Tantor Media, Inc., 2005

After one of my most recent experiences listening to an audiobook by one of my favorite acting readers, William Dufris, I decided to order up as many of his books from my library as were available. Dufris acts in the very real sense, providing many voices on the cartoon Bob the Builder. This makes him a kind of modern day Mel Blanc. Naturally, if he gets a good book, like any of the Hammett novels he reads for the strange audiobook company ISIS, it’s heaven.

Then there are the other times.

Fever, the debut novel by Sean Rowe, is likely the dumbest goddamn thriller I have ever, ever heard and/or listened to in my life. No, strike that. It’s likely one of the dumbest goddamn books I’ve ever read/listened to period — and I’ve listened to Ayn Rand.

There is a kind of short hand that so many thrillers draw from it isn’t even worth reviewing the book itself almost. It might just be easier to check the configuration of stock elements. Disgraced ex-cop type? Check. Ridiculous nickname? Check. Wild and crazy relative who gets you into scrapes? Check. Same relative who once took a bullet for you (metaphorical or otherwise) and who now has leverage on you? Check. Plot so bizarrely contrived that it almost seems an exercise in doing what no one else has done before for pure novelty’s sake? Check. Nearly impossible to kill sinister villain? Check. Sexpot love interest? Check.

In short, just about the only thing missing from Fever is an impossibly absurd actual character name like Rod Hammer or Blade Strong or some other stupid grade Z comic book bullshit.

This book has a rather strange and unbelievable kind of development. Its claim to fame is supposedly its opening chapter in which the narrator, ex-law man Matt “Loose Cannon” Shannon accidentally detonates a bomb on a freighter, blocking the ship channel in Miami Harbor. He is set up for this by his step brother, Jack Fonata, also ex-law, who is intent on the big score that will set up he and all his friends and Matt for life. Later, they temporarily hijack a cruise ship that is, unbeknownst to anyone else, smuggling bulk wads of drug money back to Mexico, hide the stash, and gain the undying enmity of the wheelchair bound mama of the drug clan who hunts them down, but let’s set all that aside.

Now the exact nature of how blocking the harbor manages to forward this scheme isn’t made entirely clear. It does get Matt, who works as security head honcho for a cruise line, involved in an investigation of whether such a thing could happen to the cruise company’s ships, and it does give Fontana some leverage in extorting Matt’s help, but other than that this opening scene is more akin to the pre-credit in media res portion of a James Bond film: it’s got box office appeal but no real connection to the plot. Lots of fireworks, little sense.

Following this scene, Matt runs into a prostitute in the hallway of a fancy hotel. He eavesdrops in on her working in one of the rooms. Then later, outside in the hall, he runs into her again and she takes off her bikini, rubs her breasts in front of him, and tells him that she is under contract to suck a rich guy off and she renegotiates her contract every month. Ummm…what? The very implausibility moves from scene to scene, our most faithful consistency.

This prostitute, or, as it turns out, cello playing high-class call girl, Julia, is the romantic interest, naturally. Luckily, she is young and beautiful. We will see more of her, you can be sure, as will the “Cannon.”

Oddly, when Julia and Matt meet for the second time, they go up to her room for a drink and he tells her the story of his life, including how he and his now-dead wife had given up their infant daughter for adoption, just the kind of thing you tell a stranger. "She could have been you," he tells Julia, the whore, then thinks "I wish it was." This is, to put it mildly, not a fatherly impulse even remotely. She sucks a rich man's cock for money and he thinks, I hope that's what my daughter's up to. Before the night is over, he wants to screw her. Loose cannon is right. Matt is an alcoholic, but I don’t really think we’re supposed to impute his bizarre thought processes to drink here. It’s just top grade, pure, unadulterated shitty writing.

We find out later that Julia is a nurse, that the high class hooker angle was a fraud Jack Fontana had arranged to sucker Matthew in on the plot. Jack thinks of everything, you see. The nurse part is for his heart, the damsel in distress angle is just bait for his stepbrother.

But wait. It turns out Julia was adopted, that she’s been searching for her birth parents, that she has something she has to tell Matt. Something he needs to know, she informs him, something about her parents. Still, when he gets a chance, Matt fucks her. In a car. While his stepbrother lies dying in the backseat.

Uh huh.

I know what you’re thinking. Believe me, I know.

Even later, after Matt fucks Julia, he suspects that he is her father. As it turns out, his dead wife was her mother, so it's almost as gross and creepy. Julia’s actual father is his stepbrother Jack Fontana. All of this is supposed to be shocking and vaguely transgressive. It’s supposed to put you on the edge of your seat with an “I can’t believe it, oh my god, can you believe it” kind of tension. Instead, it just makes you wish you could physically assault everyone involved from author on down the line.

This is the kind of book the writing of which makes Dan Brown come off like fine literature, like Dostoyevsky or Ecclesiastes or something. In writing comparisons, this is rather low, low, low on the list, just underneath such gripping titles as “Pert Plus Ingredients” and “Valtrex Side Effects.” Rowe needs to spend about thirty years working on his next book, trying to learn how to actually write, getting some seasoning to his work, straightening all the ridiculous kinks out it.

Pity poor William Dufris who probably didn't need the work, but took it any way. He does what he can with what he’s got, but he’s wasted, like Olivier in a hemorrhoid ointment commercial.

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