AMBLER by Fred Halliday


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Death Wish with sociological pretensions and sado-masochistic angst--as a moody American artist works through his identity crises by killing drug-dealers. Ambler, you see, is offended by the US decline: ""Was the American Way of Life still a model for the world to emulate as a historical reference? Sold off piece by piece by its own politicians and entrepreneurs."" He's also frustrated by the imperfection of his painting career, by his tough times with women--like Janine in Paris. (They have passionate public sex but later he tries to shove a canapÉ down her throat: Ozzie and Harriet they're not.) And, hack home in N.Y., Ambler is especially revolted by drug-dealers and the corrupt lawyers, judges, and cops who'll help them. So: he murders a disgusting New Jersey dealer called Black Willy. (""That the man inside would have no idea who his assassin was, was the only pity that Ambler felt that day."") Later he kills some pushers in Central Park, some crooked cops; he also shoots the kneecaps off a few surly, striking bus-drivers. But meanwhile, of course, Ambler's crimes are being investigated: a D.A. named Capalbo latches onto Ambler's trail, through a series of implausibly accurate hunches, but broods on the old vigilante paradox. (""So had Ambler committed a crime or was he a natural force then, a mere amending wind?"") Likewise, a drug-mob lawyer also pursues Ambler but comes to admire him. And Ambler, after rap-sessions with Capalbo about love, God, and other topics, begins to wonder about his motivation (was he ""trying to get what was missing in himself for himself?""); he realizes that his quest for control and power has been leading him to self-annihilation; he ends up virtually begging Capalbo to kill or at least arrest him. But Capalbo declines--and Ambler, after Janine's suicide, chooses to live: ""could he properly say goodbye to himself until he knew who he was?"" Despite some effectively grim drug-world scenery: a murky attempt at urban-nightmare existentialism--with feeble echoes of Kosinski, DeLillo, and others.

Pub Date: March 9th, 1982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster