Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reading doesn't pay: Gregg Hurwitz: The Program

As I mentioned, I've been silent here for some days now, mainly because I've been both working frantically and trying to spend some time with my kids. Ottilia - who, you may remember, is currently living outside of Finland - is spending her summer holidays here and since her school starts later than is usual in Finland, we've been keeping Kauto away from daycare. The result: how the hell am I supposed to work frantically?!

Anyway, it seems the zombie anthology I mentioned while back is finished and making its way into the printers next week. Another one bites the dust - or something to that effect.

What I meant to say was that reading doesn't pay. I bought The Program by Gregg Hurwitz, an American crime writer, a while back from a thrift store only because it was cheap (80 cents, it says - and it's a hardcover, no DJ though) and because I vaguely remembered hearing Hurwitz's name somewhere. Then I noticed he has a story in Jennifer Jordan's acclaimed anthology Uncage Me, and as I was looking for something to read, I decided to dip into The Program.

Not a wise move. You know, I've been busy. I should be reading more, I should be writing more, I should, I should, I should... The book seemed interesting, a bit hardboiled, a bit like a private eye novel. The premise was intriguing: a rich Hollywood producer asks a retired police officer to get back his adult stepdaughter from a mind cult, run by a charismatic mystery man. Okay, I said, this is original, even though, I think, Lew Archer had a similar case. I lingered on, when the action didn't begin. There were many interesting scenes, especially those that take place in the meetings of the cult.

But finally, after reading this for over a week, I had to confess: I don't care. The problems of the lead character and his wife seemed overworked (and they were continuation to a book I haven't read, presumably an earlier one in the same series). There wasn't enough action or suspense. There were scenes in which I was thinking: how can this happen, these guys, an undercover cop and a cult member who's being under surveillance, just get away and walk into a meeting with psychologies to help the girl? I think I stopped reading The Program something like 50 pages before the end, because it never seemed very believable, even though Hurwitz had been clearly doing his homework about how mind cults work.

This reminded me of 3:10 to Yuma, the new version from the Elmore Leonard story. The film was at times well made and it had some good action scenes (but too much posturing), but the most interesting thing about it was that it was about how mind cults work. Look at the scene in which Russell Crowe talks with his men about a member who got shot. It's exactly like the cult leader talks in Hurwitz's book. Crowe is a charismatic sociopath, who also gets to work inside Christian Bale's head. And here lies the problem within the film: it never resolves the questions it poses. Crowe is a scary psycho, yet he becomes like a father to Bale (and his older son). I don't understand what the writers were thinking. That becoming a father figure to a simple man who's had his share of tragedy (leg gone in Civil War) is something that can cure a sociopath? C'mon!

I digress. Suffice to say that I got finally to Allan Guthrie's Savage Night and we don't have the same problems there.

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