01 June 2010

Supervillains and brave guys

When I think of supervillains, I think of fantasy characters like Lex Luthor and Dr. No. Usually I think of them in association with fantasy heroes like Superman and James Bond.

So, recently I read books with supervillains as primary characters. But opposite them there were no superheroes. There were brave people (not necessarily wise, but brave), but not super heroes.

Over the recent long weekend at the wonderful cabin called Sidetrack, I read William Kent Krueger's Mercy Falls and C. J. Box's Nowhere to Run (or Now Here to Run?). Both books are centered on long-running characters: Krueger's Cork O'Connor and Box's Joe Pickett. Both of these brave guys are nearly overwhelmed by supervillains. In fact, it's not entirely clear why either of them survived past the middle of the book about them.

Both plots involve behind-the-scenes machinations of the rich and powerful, which is one of the sources of the villains' super powers, and something no mere mortal can overcome. I'm put off by stories where such imbalance is vital.

I don't doubt that there are people with money and connections who can make "impossible" things happen and get away with it. I doubt that mere motrals can be such a threat as to attract the wrath of those supervillains.

I also doubt that mere mortals, or records of their existence, would survive the wrath of such supervillains. (It's not just the Chilean or Argentine militaries, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or the CIA that can make people disappear.)

Both of these books are packed with action, suspense, blood, and gore. Krueger even cheats by previewing a bloody scene from late in the book as a preface. Box cheats a bit by replaying a "find the bad guys in the wilderness" scenario three times.

In the end, Krueger's hero slinks off into the night in an attempt to protect his family. Box's hero faces years of post-traumatic stress therapy in order to learn to live with himself. (Although I'd guess that Box will resurrect his hero to fight another day with his sanity and identity intact evern without therapy.)

So, I didn't like the imbalance between the bad guys and the good guys. The violence and mayhem was more than I'd prefer in a mystery. The logic of the plots are stretched thinner than I'd like. But I read both of them. They were diversions from the preparations I was doing for an upcoming teaching gig. And they kept me out of the sun during our first really hot summer weekend.

And, one more thing. When I was about half way through Krueger's Mercy Falls, I mentioned to wonderful Nancy that I liked it more than I'd remembered liking the last Krueger novel I'd read. It went down hill in the second half. Then I finished the story, but there were still 50 pages left in the book. What was up with that? It turns out that the anti-climax was the launching of Krueger's next book -- a continuation of the supervillain-brave guy story. BOO! Sorry, I won't be looking for it.

Have you read Mercy Falls or Nowhere to Run? What did you think? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you think.

William Kent Krueger's web site for Mercy Falls

C. J. Box's web site for Nowhere to Run

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