The Lion’s Game, Nelson DeMille

Warner, 2000, 926 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-446-60826-2

Prior to September 11, 2001, I merely disliked terrorists.

Living in good old peaceful Canada, I’ve never had any direct nor indirect experience with it. It was something that happened elsewhere. Sure, people got killed, and for this reason alone terrorists should be caught and tried… but as far as day-to-day life went, they did their stuff, I did mine, and that was it.

That notion came tumbling down along with the World Trade Center.

Now I simply hate terrorists. Unconditionally.

On July 1 2001, me and me sister, while visiting New York, passed through the North-West Tower ground floor, snapped a picture and left.

Now we can’t go back. The whole area has been destroyed. Terrorists have effectively destroyed part of my history.

The effects ricocheted back to the present. A dear friend of mine was forced, amidst great personal turmoil, to cancel two trips she was looking forward to. And now I find that terrorists have invaded my library.

The Lion’s Game should have been a good read. Indeed, I passed up an opportunity to buy the hardcover edition in August 2001, rationalizing that I’d read it sooner or later, so why not later?

Later, after the WTC collapse, proved to be an atrocious idea.

On the surface, without any outside influences, The Lion’s Game is a promising read. It brings back John Corey, the wisecracking narrator of DeMille’s good Plum Island. This time around, though, Corey has accepted a job with the New York Antiterrorist unit. As the book begins, he’s en route to the airport to pick up a terrorist in transit from Europe. So far… so good?

Alas, any of the novel’s innocuous mentions of the World Trade Center now triggers a reflex. And that’s without counting lines such as “the quality of terrorists we get in this country is generally low… and the stupid things they’ve done is legendary… But then again, remember the World Trade Center. Not to mention the two embassy bombings in Africa.” [p.47] Later, there’s the disturbing scene on page 219-220, where our narrator stares at the WTC, reflects on the near-miss of 1993, possible worst-case scenario and the efficiency of American anti-terrorist units. Ow.

But the worst realitymod in The Lion’s Game is the nature of the terrorist himself. The titular “Lion” acts too much like… a honorable villain. He kills specific targets to fulfill a personal objective; he doesn’t blindly strike at whoever he can kill. He is up-close and personal with his victims. He goads our narrator. He in no way acts like the monsters of September 11. He’s clearly a fictional construct.

The resulting chase, which wouldn’t have been very good even when read “cold”, now seems more trivial than DeMille intended when writing the book. A few dead people here and there. Oh well.

There’s plenty to say about the book in itself. How the narrator is the main attraction, and the chapters starring “The Lion” are merely filler. How the book is much too long. How the ending, as original as it is -in the sense that you probably haven’t seen anything like it before-, wraps the book in a messy fashion that satisfies no one. How Corey once again gets to sleep with a different woman. How little there is in these 900+ pages.

But no; now, the main problem of the book is its attitude, its approach, its lackadaisical attitude toward terrorism. Scenes that now couldn’t exist. Lines that were funny, now turned sinister.

The terrorists that killed 6000+ persons on September 11, 2001 and destroyed the World Trade Center have also invaded our libraries and video stores, turning run-of-the-mill thrillers in distasteful disappointments. They’re messing with the 1976 remake of KING KONG. They are retroactively planting bad memories in our minds. They are souring the thrills out of thrillers. They don’t even need to kill another person to do so; the damage is self-sustaining, rotting away our leisure time.

That’s why there’s no escape, no surrender and no mercy possible for terrorists. And that’s why I hate their guts. No one messes with my library.

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