The Third Man

Hank Schwaeble

Hank Schwaeble

Damnable by Hank SchwaebleDamnable, by Hank Schwaeble, has been called noir, but anyone who has seen The Third Man, Double Indemnity and The Asphalt Jungle will see no more than a tenuous connection to what noir originally was. Just like the word libertarian often gets applied to anyone who is pro-choice on two or more issues, noir gets thrown at any tale with a dark atmosphere, a detective and/or so much as a single morally ambiguous character, resulting in an abundance of wrongly labeled people and stories. Damnable, winner of the 2009 Bram Stoker Award, is not noir any more than Bill Maher is a libertarian; it is a mix of detective tale, supernatural story full of demons and cultish rituals, and MMA-style fighting and action.

This is not to denigrate the work — or Bill Maher — but merely to put it in its proper category. As a story it is a modest success, not profound perhaps, but also without pretensions of depth and nuance. On the first page, a character muses, “Coffee was like pizza and sex — no matter how bad it was, it was usually still pretty good.” In other words, the author is decent enough to tell us straight away we will not be wrestling with complex ideas and weighty issues. When a zombie attacks a few paragraphs later, it is the author letting us know what we will be doing.

I enjoyed my time with the novel, which I believe is all the author ever wanted for his readers. I know I enjoyed it because I put my book mark in the sequel as soon as the last page was turned. The main character, Jake Hatcher, is something more than one dimensional, interesting from the outset. His situation is intriguing, his history morally ambiguous, and his abilities perfect for the action to follow.

We first meet Jake as a convict in a military prison. One of his jailors has it out for him, and Jake suspects his cellmate has been recruited to pick a fight with him, to get him in trouble so his term can be lengthened. There is also another trap his jailor has set for him, and while he tries to navigate these he gets a call from his mother telling him his brother has died, an event we saw in the prologue.

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MOVIE REVIEW | Atlas Shrugged: Part I Thumbnail

Atlas ShruggedIn Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, the first time we meet Dagny Taggart is on the Taggart Comet. The scene comes alive as Rand’s pen reveals the details such that the reader feels as if he is there. When Dagny awakens from a nap to discover the train has stopped, she gets off to investigate. Ayn Rand writes:

There was a cold wind outside, and an empty stretch of land under an empty sky. She heard weeds rustling in the darkness. Far ahead, she saw figures of men standing by the engine—and above them, hanging detached in the sky, the red light of a signal.

I have often thought Rand would have made an excellent director, and in that single paragraph we can see some of her talent. She appeals to three senses and evokes compelling images in our heads. A director, location scout, sound engineer, set designer, and cinematographer intent on filming such a scene have half their work done for them already. Let us hear the weeds but not see them; let us see Dagny shiver once and hold her coat tighter to her body; let us see a long shot of silhouettes of men bathed in red light from the stoplight that seems to float in the dark sky above them. The appropriate shots present themselves, practically instructing the director.

Before the stop, Dagny hears a brakeman whistling a tune she just knows was composed by Richard Halley.

“Tell me please what are you whistling?”

“It’s the Halley Concerto,” he answered, smiling.

“Which one?”

“The Fifth.”

She let a moment pass before she said slowly and very carefully, “Richard Halley wrote only four concertos.”

The boy’s smile vanished… “Yes, of course,” he said. “I’m wrong. I made a mistake.”

This early scene, which I find excellent and a great mood setter for the rest of the book, is absent from the movie. So too is any trace of the talent for storytelling present in it.

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