- - Thursday, July 30, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

KILLER, COME HITHER

By Louis Begley

Doubleday, $25.95, 243 pages

Louis Begley is no Mickey Spillane, nor is his hero, Jack Dana, a Mike Hammer, that is, until Jack meets and kills his foe with all the finesse of the most hard-boiled detective.

In his new novel, “Killer, Come Hither,” Mr. Begley has switched from his world of complex relationships, and turned to a fast moving crime thriller. But the plot remains anchored in the upper middle-class world of Fifth Avenue apartments, Sag Harbor weekends, high-end elite law firms, and expensive, elegant living.

Jack Dana is the son of a Harvard professor and a mother who played the flute; he graduated from Yale in ancient Greek and Roman history. After his parents’ deaths, his father’s younger, bachelor brother, Harry, became his loving, protective family.

Harry was a senior partner in a prestigious New York law firm. He “knew everybody” and would take Jack “to his club or to one of the French restaurants he liked best.” They went to the opera, theater, or ballet and spent long weekends at Harry’s “Long Island home in the part of Sag Harbor that escaped the conflagration of 1845, which destroyed much of that once-important port. His house was an early-19th-century structure, a warren of small rooms, many of them strangely shaped, complemented by a barn that had been converted into a high-ceilinged studio with its own bathroom.”

After Sept. 11, 2001, Jack gave up his academic pursuits and enlisted in the Marine Corps where, as a Marine Infantry officer and Force Recon platoon leader in Iraq and Afghanistan, he learned how easy it is to kill a man. He was wounded, then sent to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. While recovering, he wrote his first novel which was an instant literary and financial success; Hollywood quickly bought the rights.

Living in amiable companionship with Uncle Harry after he left the hospital, Jack wrote a second successful novel. Harry was very involved in the legal problems and whims of his chief client, Abner Brown, a mysterious Texas billionaire. “The work he was doing for Abner continued to expand in a manner that was flattering to [Harry] and was naturally very much appreciated by the firm.”

Jack went to South America for three months on an extended holiday. Upon his return, he was greeted with the shocking news that Uncle Harry, who had retired from the firm, had committed suicide by hanging himself in his studio in Sag Harbor.

Unable to accept the fact of a suicide and disbelieving the explanation for retirement offered by the law firm, Jack sets about finding the truth behind his uncle’s death, aided in his task by Harry’s young law partner, Kerry Black, with whom Jack was rapidly falling in love.

Kerry is a tall, “athletically built girl … with a delicate pale face, eyes that were more green than blue, and a huge chignon of curly black hair.” Harry considered her to be “the brightest and most conscientious associate he had ever worked with.” Being with Kerry filled Jack with joy, a “kind of joy … not unlike the joy, triumphant joy, [he] had felt after the first night during the Phantom Fury in Fallujah, when [he] realized that no one in [his] platoon had been hit, or again when the morphine kicked in at Delaram and medics strapped [him] onto the stretcher for loading on the helicopter, and [he] realized [he] was going to live.”

An unexpected clue indicating that Harry was murdered, Kerry’s help, and the assistance of an old friend now working for the CIA, turn Jack in the direction of Abner Brown. Jack believes that Harry was killed because “he discovered a pattern of completely pervasive wholesale violations of law, U.S. law, state law, and laws of the foreign countries where Brown companies operate.” Jack goads Brown into sending a hired killer after him and the proof he had found.

In an exciting denouement, Jack uses the skills he acquired in the Marines. “If you’re going to kill your enemy and survive, you need training, meticulous attention to detail, and luck,” said Jack. “The training [he’d] received in the Corps is the best in the world,” and he knew “how to keep [his] eye on the ball.”

Jack takes revenge into his own hands and Harry’s death is avenged, but the cost to Jack is considerable.

Jack, an intelligent, urbane yet genuine young man is the first-person voice of “Killer, Come Hither.” Beautiful women, martinis, and elegant dinners are as much part of the story as are the cynicism of the lawyers, the crafty cruelty of the villains, and Jack’s own thirst for blood. “Killer, Come Hither” is as cool, witty and elegant as Mr. Begley’s earlier novels. It’s always a pleasure to spend a few hours in that upper-class world, even when it involves a brutal murder.

Corinna Lothar is a Washington writer and critic.

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