Thursday, March 20, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Dirty Harry #1 - Duel for Cannons

The first three Dirty Harry movies came out between 1971 and 1976. Then, there was a hiatus of seven years, until 1983's Sudden Impact. With the franchise dead going into the '80s, Warner Books decided to begin a series of media tie-in novels (although I doubt they were called that at the time) featuring the eponymous maverick cop and his Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. The series ran from 1981 to March of 1983, nine months before Sudden Impact was released. The series was written by two authors; Ric Meyers (who wrote the Ninja Master books) and Leslie Alan Horvitz, a writer I'm unfamiliar with. Meyers apparently wrote #'s 1, 3, 5, 8, 9, and 11.

The first book in the series, Duel for Cannons, opens with the line, "Boopsie's head exploded". The unfortunate Boopsie is a guy in a cartoon-figure suit at a knockoff Disney World-esque theme park in California. Boopsie is killed by a gunman who then gets chased by an off-duty San Antonio sheriff visiting the amusement park with his family. The sheriff gets drawn into a running gun battle with the shooter, and is eventually killed. Of course, the deceased is an old friend of Harry Callahan's, and Callahan doesn't take kindly to his friends being killed, even less so when the killer makes it look like the death was actually the sheriff pulling off a mass murder/suicide.

Although everyone else almost immediately dismisses the inconsistencies in the case, Harry pursues the evidence, and eventually uncovers a shadowy killer who seems to be trying to draw Harry to San Antonio. Eventually Harry goes there, and discovers that H. A. Striker, a wealthy business magnate, essentially runs the city, owns the cops, and gets to do whatever he wants. Striker had been opposed by the Sheriff, and one of his underlings, a tactically brilliant investigator named Nash. Harry teams up with Nash to try and bring down Striker, who is actually furious that the assassin - a .44 Magnum-loving killer named Sweetboy Williams -  lured Harry to San Antonio. Striker tries to get Harry arrested or driven off several times, only to get foiled on every occasion.

The story culminates with a ton of gunplay, as Striker tries to use a captured Nash as bait to lure Harry into a place where his bought cops - or Williams - can kill Harry. There's a ridiculous amount of gunfire and stuff getting smashed / shot / blown up, and although the killing isn't too gratuitous, at least one bad guy gets his head "blown clean off". I don't want to give away the details - there are a few twists and turns - but the ending is pretty satisfying, although the middle third of the book does sag a bit, and I found the whole plot a little hard to believe. With the police corruption looking SO blatant and rampant in San Antonio, and with the amount of evidence Nash gathers on Striker's doings, I don't see how he couldn't have just passed the information on to the FBI or some other, larger agency.

But overall, I found Duel for Cannons to be great fun. I've recently re-watched the first three Dirty Harry movies, and this book definitely references his filmic adventures extensively. One minor deviation is that DiGiorgio, an inspector who appears in all three earlier movies, is alive in this book, while (SPOILER) he's killed midway through The Enforcer. I suppose he was too good a secondary character to leave dead and buried, since his chubby, laid-back persona is a great counterpoint to Harry's belligerent, wound-up personality. There's also enough time spent in San Francisco dealing with punks and criminals there, that I'm looking forward to later stories taking place in the city itself. Meyers is able to capture and reproduce a lot of Harry's personality, and I can easily hear Eastwood speaking the dialogue in the book with Harry's typical laconic delivery.

It looks like Amazon has most, if not all of these books available for a somewhat reasonable price used, assuming you're not looking for mint condition specimens. I've already ordered the second book in the series, and I'll review it as soon as I can.


Brian Drake said...

Actually, I can explain the DiGiorgio resurrection. The site has gone dark now, but a long time ago "The Dirtiest" was the best source of Dirty Harry trivia on the web, run by a couple of fans who managed to track down Ric Meyers and interview him about the books. Ric said he put DiGiorgio back in because there was never any specific "death" in The Enforcer. The scene ended with DiGiorgio asking for his wife and flat-lining but we're never told he's specifically dead. Watch it again and you'll see. We're only led to believe he died. Meyers figured Mr. Too Much Linguine was saved and recovered to aid Harry in the novels. It makes as much sense as anything else.

My only gripe about the Dirty Harry books was that Harry spent a lot of time OUTSIDE San Francisco, and sometimes he was nothing but a Mack Bolan clone. Wait till you get to the book where he wipes out a bunch of drug smuggling baddies on a dock only to grab a machine gun and wait for a boat to arrive loaded with more baddies he can kill. He literally sits on the dock with the machine gun in his lap like a fisherman. I didn't finish the series because it never quite felt like "The Real Dirty Harry".

Of course you'll have to add the novelization of "Sudden Impact" to the series, which was outstanding and fleshed out the story much more than what was in the film.

Jack Badelaire said...

#2 is "Death on the Docks", so I get a feeling I'll be reading that scene soon.

As for the non-death, that makes sense. You do see him flat-line, and they announce a Code Blue and everyone rushes in, but then Callahan leaves and the story starts rolling along pretty quickly. I'm glad Di Giorgio lives, because he was one of my favorite characters in the movies.

Indyguy said...

You've made me curious to read some of these books. I'd like to know more about what the author imagines Harry is up to in those missing years. I guess you could say, "I gots ta know."

Charles Gramlich said...

I also read this one, quite some time ago. But found it very much fun! I liked those movies, too, of course.

phillb29 said...

I've been wondering if this series was any good ever since I heard about it a couple years ago. One thing that kept me from reading these books is the fact that Ric Meyers wrote a lot of them. I read a couple of Ric's titles for the Mac Wingate series years ago, and I really, really disliked them.

Based on your review, it sounds like he did a much better job with the Dirty Harry books.