(This opinion first appeared in February 2003)

The following words and phrases have no business in a decent book:
Washington insider
sophisticated weaponry
special agent
ill-gotten business
vigilante hit squad
dope-dealing associate
hired assassin
and, especially: ex-marine (why are they always ex-marines?)

Disturbingly, these words and phrases were all included in just one week’s worth of a well known literary magazine’s reviews—in the main fiction section, no less, not in the mass market section.

I’m not actually opposed to all such books, but they need to be tucked away in the mass market section. Furthermore, there really only need to be approximately 10-15 new ones a year. (A generous figure, I feel, since they’re all essentially the same.)

I am also troubled by the waste of paper that these books represent.  If you’re not certain of the urgency of this situation, compare the following two excerpts:

It was their first winter. The earth under their boots was grey. The yellow tussock grass was salty with hail. In the violet clouds of afternoon lay the promise of a great winding sheet of snow. Joseph’s mother, Lilian, sat at the wooden table, wearing a bonnet against the chill in the room, mending china. China broken on its shipment from England.



“You’d better keep out of this, friend,” the man in the tweed cap told him. “This is Provisional IRA business.” There was a moment of stillness and then the one in the ponytail pulled a Smith & Wesson .38 from the pocket of his bomber jacket. Rupert Lang’s hand came up holding the Beretta and shot him twice in the heart.