Last night we visited Sekhnet’s aunt, the widow of Sekhnet’s father’s brother, on the occasion of the energetic aunt’s 98th birthday. Aunt Lillian has always been a big reader and had several paperbacks on her coffee table. “You want this?” she asked me, holding up a book by Nelson DeMille.
I’d read a couple of DeMille’s books, given to me years ago by Sekhnet’s favorite cousin on her mother’ side. He used to buy them in airports, read them on planes. He loved DeMille’s wiseass, macho narrator, a private eye with a dozen wisecracks ready for the bad guys who were about to torture him. DeMille has a million or more fans, and has written many bestsellers. He is no slouch, a kind of heir to Elmore Leonard, even if sometimes without Leonard’s unfailing gift for understatement.
The book hadn’t been Aunt Lillian’s cup of tea, the wiseass, macho narrator no doubt had put her off, but she told me, in selling the book “he’s a good writer.” He is. He writes to engage the reader, to entertain and to sell books. He is very good at all of these things. Reading his book last night and today reminded me of why we love to read a good tale. DeMille has gotten better with age, or maybe I’ve just forgotten how quickly each of his other books sucked me in. I’ve snipped out a few examples, which I’ll share and then be on my way.
Of his narrator’s backstory, he says:
FYI, I spent five years in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer and got blown up in Afghanistan. That’s the short story of how I wound up here. The long story is a long story, and no one in Key West wants to hear long stories.
As a reader, I wanted to hug the guy when I read that. Instead of wasting a paragraph, or several, on made up details, he gives us a punchline that reveals a lot about the narrator and heads right back to setting up his story.
About his father, the narrator says:
…my father was a man of few words. If I’d gotten killed overseas and he had to put my obit in the Portland Press Herald at twenty dollars a word he’d be Yankee frugal and Maine taciturn, and just say: Daniel MacCormick died. If it had to be a six-word minimum he’d show his practical side and add: Car for Sale.
Well, maybe I’m being hard on the old man. He was proud of me when I joined the Army, and before my second deployment to Afghanistan he advised, “Come back.” Well, I did, and he seemed pleased about that, but a bit concerned about my physical injuries, though not so much about the post-traumatic stress, which he doesn’t believe in. He liked to say he came back from Vietnam the same as when he left, which, according to my mother, is unfortunately true.
Great shit, fun to read. Even if the joke about the obit might be an elderly one, it is recycled deftly by the talented Mr. DeMille and serves the telling of the tale.
One last one before I make myself lunch and eat it while reading a few more short, tasty chapters of The Cuban Affair:
(The narrator is a charter boat captain in Key West. His first mate Jack is an ornery seventy year-old Viet Nam vet. They are about to meet mysterious clients who have offered him millions for a dangerous mission.)
Jack always wore jeans and sneakers, never shorts or flip-flops, and today he’d chosen his favorite “I Kill People” T-shirt.
I suggested, “The Maine T-shirt I gave you would be good tonight.”
He doesn’t mean “yes,” and he doesn’t mean “sir.” He means “Fuck you.” Sometimes he calls me “Captain,” and I never know if he’s using my former Army rank or my present title as licensed sea captain. In either case he means “Asshole.”