Friday, April 09, 2010

The Book You Have to Read: “Shoot,”
by Douglas Fairbairn

(Editor’s note: This is the 89th installment of our ongoing Friday blog series highlighting great but forgotten books. Today’s selection comes from Las Vegas writer, poker player, and former professional musician Mike Dennis. His crime novel, The Take, is due to be released later this year by L&L Dreamspell Publishing. Dennis’ self-titled blog can be found here.)

Is there any such thing as “macho noir”? I’ve never heard of it, but if there were, then Shoot would certainly be one of its classic examples.

Written in 1973 by Douglas Fairbairn, it’s a testosterone-loaded novel, which has one of the best openings I’ve read in a long, long time. A group of middle-aged hunters, all buddies and veterans of various wars, are traipsing about through the woods one day in full hunting regalia. As they come to a riverbank, they spot another group of guys, very much like themselves, on the other side. Without any provocation whatsoever, one of the hunters on the opposite bank raises his rifle and fires at our group, wounding one of them. Reflexively, one of our guys, an expert marksman, returns fire, blowing the shooter’s head apart.

A frantic firefight ensues, and eventually, our guys retreat and get the hell out of there without suffering any more casualties. What follows is a well-constructed tale of the nature of manhood and its entwining with pack mentality.

Rex Jeannette is the ultimate alpha male, leading his group of friends through an agonizing analysis of both the bloody event and what they should do about it. Call the police? Go back and confront the attackers again? Do nothing? And speaking of the attackers, what are they going to do? Will they seek revenge for their slain comrade? Will they call the police? Who knows? But Rex is firmly in charge and everyone knows it.

He owns a big department store in town, and when he’s not dealing with the aftermath of the shootout in the woods, he’s busy slugging whiskey and screwing the girls who work in his store. He makes constant references to firearms, complete with manufacturer, caliber, and model number. He’s not afraid of anything and he has no patience for anyone who is. Those who step out of line will pay for it.

Fairbairn, the author of the excellent 1977 noir novel, Street 8, is definitely untainted by the world of political correctness and all of its stifling restrictions. That’s understandable, since PC wasn’t really entrenched back in 1973, when he wrote Shoot. However, you get the impression that through Rex Jeannette, Fairbairn is venting a lot of his own aggression, working out his own hang-ups, and perhaps searching for his own place in the world. He received very little aid, though, from the uninspired film made from his book in 1976.

The climax of Shoot, while not entirely unexpected, is still something of a surprise, thanks to the tremendous suspense the author has created in the run-up to it. The final few lines are a fitting end to an incisive, violent novel.

1 comment:

Shannon Chenoweth said...

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