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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Run may be Douglas Winter's first novel, but it is not by any stretch an apprentice work. It is, on the contrary, a mature, fully realized creation and a culminating moment in Winter's varied career as critic (Stephen King: The Art of Darkness), editor (Prime Evil, Revelations), and author of some of the most original short fiction of recent years. It is, in brief, everything Winter's admirers have been hoping for, and a good bit more.
On one level, Run is a thriller set in the arcane world of illegal arms dealers, its plot turning on a high-stakes, guns-for-money deal that goes spectacularly wrong. On a deeper level, it is an unsparing examination of a world on the edge of apocalypse, a world obsessed to the point of lunacy with owning -- and using -- guns. This apocalyptic vision is articulated by Burdon Lane, gunrunner, good soldier, and longtime employee of UniArms, a Virginia-based weapons franchise that Burdon describes as "a factory outlet...for buyers on a budget: Guns R Us."
Burdon, as he himself tells us, is not one of the good guys. But he is a complex, fascinating character, a thoroughgoing professional who goes where he's told and does whatever his job requires without asking inconvenient questions. Still, unlike many of his associates, he has managed to retain some vital ties to the ordinary human world. He is deeply in love with his live-in girl friend, the mysterious, exotic Fiona. He is loyal to his friends, particularly his younger, less experienced partner, Renny (a.k.a. Renny Two Hand). He is haunted by memories of his dead mother and carries her copy of Crime and Punishment (an altogether appropriate account of murder and redemption) wherever he goes. He is haunted, also, by the memory of a colleague who was murdered for committing the one unforgivable crime in Burdon's world: breaking the code of silence.
Winter brings both Burdon and the novel to life with a flawlessly sustained narrative voice that is one of Run's most indelible achievements. That hypnotic voice, with its mixture of tough-guy locutions, rude humor, casual obscenity, and unexpected flashes of poetry, lights up the novel, placing the reader inside the skin of the unfolding narrative and providing Winter with the perfect vehicle for his violent, intricately designed story.
The story begins when Burdon is ordered to ride shotgun on an arms shipment traveling from Alexandria, Virginia, to Manhattan, where a New York City street gang called the 9 Bravos is waiting to take delivery. Against his wishes, Burdon and his partners are accompanied by the U Street Crew, a Washington, D.C., street gang that has entered into an alliance with UniArms, in the interest of what UniArms owner Jules Berenger calls "diversification." The weapons are delivered and the deal is nearly concluded when, in a moment of choreographed violence that turns the novel neatly on its head, an unexpected murder is committed, a murder that is followed by a bloodbath in which almost no one is left alive.
In the aftermath, Burdon makes his way back to Virginia, accompanied by an enigmatic U Street Crew member who goes by the name of Jinx. Their journey south is a violent and eventful one, littered with the corpses of Burdon's friends. The journey -- and the novel -- end together in a masterfully sustained set piece: a fierce, almost surreal pitched battle that takes place, with deliberate irony, in a Catholic church in Alexandria. By the time the smoke clears and the last bullet is fired, Burdon has learned the truth behind the "run" that ended so disastrously. At the same time, he comes to understand, with belated clarity, the nature of the world that he -- and others like him -- is helping to create.
Run is a novel about secrets, about the truths that lie buried beneath the visible surface of events. It is a novel in which almost everyone wears some sort of mask, in which hidden agendas and undisclosed purposes dominate the plot. Most of all, Run is an authentically nightmarish portrait of America as war zone, of America transformed -- through greed, expediency, and an overriding obsession with guns, guns, and more guns -- into a very literal adjunct of Hell. Somewhere along the line, Run crosses an invisible border and becomes not simply a thriller but a meditation on violence, corruption, and damnation and on the opposing, but very real, possibility of personal redemption.
Simply put, Run is an extraordinary debut, a visceral, endlessly fascinating look at a fractured, racially divided, rapidly unraveling society. With confidence, intelligence, and great narrative authority, Winter subverts the conventions of the traditional thriller, using the form to open up a window on the condition of the American soul. The result is a novel that is not to be missed, that is unlike anything you are likely to encounter -- inside the genre or out of it -- for a very long time to come.