A Running Duck (Fair Game in the US)
First published in the UK 1978, Macmillan London Ltd
This edition 1979, Pan Books Ltd
‘I can’t mollycoddle and aim a gun at the same time.’
I never thought I’d be reviewing a book with Sylvester Stallone’s sunglasses on the front, but there they are, as large as life. Cobra was (at least in my hazy memory of watching a rented VHS circa 1986) a terrible terrible film. YouTube clips seem to back that up. It does however feature the immortal line: ‘You’re the disease, and I’m the cure.’
But hang on a minute. Here’s a summary of Cobra‘s plot:
Ingrid Knudsen is a harmless Los Angeles model who makes the mistake of witnessing a murder committed by a neo-Fascist leader called the Night Slasher. She becomes his next target, and is put under the protection of the icy Marion Cobretti (‘Cobra’).
And here’s the set-up to the book I just read:
Clare Randell is a harmless San Francisco ad executive who makes the mistake of interrupting an international hitman in the course of his professional duties. She becomes his next target, and is put under the protection of the icy Mike Malchek.
See what they did there?
Putting Cobra aside, this is a pretty good book. Much better than you’d think.
Malchek was a sniper in Vietnam and is now the SFPD’s expert on snipers and hitmen. He takes ad exec Clare first into protective custody, and then on a tour of California’s redwood forests in an attempt to draw out her would-be killer ‘Edison’.
The story is mainly set-pieces, but they’re good ones. There’s a scene in a small-town sheriff’s office worthy of Thomas Harris. There’s an atmospheric siege in a fog-bound safe house. And most of all there are tense shoot-outs amongst the redwoods. There’s nice descriptive writing amidst the action. I liked this in chapter one:
San Francisco was a richly painted, angular roller-coaster that bumped the eye towards the flat blue of the water.
Plot-wise, there was a period in my life when everybody in every other film I watched was a veteran who had flashbacks to ‘Nam. So in a sense, reading A Running Duck felt like a homecoming. Malchek was wounded in Vietnam, but of course, his biggest scars are the ones which don’t show…
‘What the hell’s the matter with you?’ Gonzales had asked. What’s the matter with me? I’ll tell you, Gonzo old buddy. I want to take that nice lady, that pretty lady with the big eyes and rich handful of boobs under her hospital gown, and hang her up high in the sun. I want to say, ‘ Look Edison, look what I’ve got for you.’
And then, when he tries for her, I want to shoot his throat out.
He hates what the Army made him, and his career in the police is an effort to make amends. He has locked his programming away, but he’s frightened that it will resurface, making him a killer again. Hence his icy demeanour.
However, once she has thawed his ice, it turns out that Clare holds the key to releasing his personal demons. Yes, there’s a love story in here too. That, of course, has its own risks:
When all this idiocy ended, if it ended with them still alive, would they be able to face e stunning trauma of a simple electricity bill? And would ordinary electricity bills and a mortgage be enough?
The other cops are also familiar stock characters from ’80s movies. Reddesdale is the under-sized Commissioner who keeps the rulebook close, but only as something to stand on. Gonzo Gonzales is the ‘regular cop’ counterweight to Malchek’s brilliancce (he doesn’t actually say he’s close to retirement, but he should be).
However, ‘Edison’ the hitman is an exemplary opponent. Similar to Malchek in many ways, but with a few crucial differences that make them worlds apart.
And Clare is a rounded character, a career woman with a slightly waspish exterior, realistically scared much of the time, but more than just a victim.
Ultimately, if you like thrillers, ignore the multitude of dodgy covers this book has been given, and give it a try.
Final destination: Greenmetropolis
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Rich – Good to know that the book is better than the film (not, admittedly, that I’ve seen the whole film, but I’ve seen some clips and they convinced not to bother). I’m not usually one for this kind of thriller, but it’s good to hear this one isn’t bad.
I picked up a cheap copy of this on your reco, Rich, so have just skimmed your review for now, will look at it more fully when I’ve read it. Looking forward to those 1970s fashions 😉 . I read a couple by Paula Gosling years ago, but can’t remember much about them.
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