Derek Haas has written some good action films, and even a good Western. With The Silver Bear, he enters the popular fiction market in novel form.
Until I read the book, I didn’t know what a Silver Bear was. It sounded cool, and the whole premise of a hitman at large is always one of those plots that I’ll pick up. Another thing that made the book attractive to me was the short length. At two hundred barely-plus pages, the novel looks like a stripped down muscle car loaded with NOS.
Unfortunately, the novel reads like a novella pumped up to novel length with the addition of frequent trips down memory lane. I know some of these flashbacks are supposed to delineate the character and provide backstory, but they really get in the way of the plot. I know that some of the characters in the flashbacks are important to the current problem getting played out, but I didn’t need to know that much about them.
I was reminded, while reading this novel, of an old Dan J. Marlowe novel, The Name of the Game Is Death. Both novels share the device of the flashbacks, but Marlowe’s was better because it covered the scope of the character’s life. Haas spends time developing the backstory to the extent that I decided I’d have rather had the story in a more linear fashion. He seemed torn between telling the old story and the new story.
Also, the eventual target Columbus (the hitman protagonist) is supposed to take down just doesn’t do emotional justice to the setup. At first, the story was going to be a vengeful thing, which made you wonder why Columbus hadn’t done something about it before now himself. Then Haas really yanks the teeth from everything in the final scenes of the book with the twists that he creates.
The lack of emotional response to some of the losses Columbus suffers doesn’t quite ring true either. An episode involving the lead's girlfriend was more frustrating and upsetting than anything because Haas was really trying to prove how tough the character was. And a mishap involving Columbus’s lifelong partner was just too shallow. On one hand he was supposed to be scarred by his emotions, and on the other they just didn’t exist. After everything that happened to him in the foster homes, and with a drugged-out mother pumping his body full of chemicals before he was born, I expected him to be a lot more dysfunctional.
Haas has written another book about the character. I may read it at some point, but I’m not going to seek it out. I know Haas can’t redo this “origin” story, so the new book should go in a decidedly different direction, but I’m just not curious enough to look for it. This story has been done over and over, but readers new to the genre will enjoy Haas’s clear, sharp prose and sense of melodrama.