Picks and Pans Review: Wet Work
On one level this is an adventure novel about a very rich old man, Charley Becker.
He is on a vendetta against the Peruvian drug lords who supplied the cocaine that killed his only living relative, a beautiful 22-year-old granddaughter, Tasha. Along with his bodyguards and henchmen, Becker tracks down every operative in the drug chain, travels to South America and does them all in, using a variety of sometimes inventive, always superviolent methods.
The whole second half of the book is so heavy on the setups and shoot-outs, in fact, that it is (a) often hard to follow and (b) to be expected that the story has already been purchased by Paramount Pictures. (Too bad that neither Stallone nor Willis is old enough to play the lead.)
Unlike your average shoot-'em-up, however, Wet Work also aspires to satire—of the drug culture, of the government, of religion. At that, it at times succeeds brilliantly. In one effective scene, Becker, a Catholic, insists that one of his goons let a drug dealer speak to a priest before the goon blows the dealer's head off. There's also a high-level government official whose stumbling syntax is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan.
But too often, Buckley—author of The White House Mess, son of William F. Buckley and a speechwriter for then Vice-President George Bush—falls back on one-liners and inside jokes. Given his background, it's not surprising—and not unfunny—that he names Becker's henchmen Bundy, Rostow and McNamara (after famous Cabinet members of recent history). But when Buckley starts dropping such names as those of Von Bülow counselor Alan Dershowitz and columnist William Safire, his I-was-there-and-you-weren't attitude begins to grate. (Knopf, $19.95)