Thursday, July 16, 2015

Post-9/11 Noir: The Good Physician by Kent Harrington

Published in 2008, Kent Harrington's The Good Physician is arguably the best of the post-9/11 crime novels. The author of two contemporary noir classics, Dia de Los Muertos and Red Jungle, Harrington is adept at creating believable characters and ever-tightening plots in which choices are gradually narrowed down to their existential essentials.

That Harrington opted to publish The Good Physician with Dennis McMillan's rather than try his luck with a mainstream publisher, is interesting in itself. I don't know if that was a conscious choice on Harrington's part, though it wouldn't surprise me to learn the book might have been too hot for mainstream publishers. It's not that it's politically radical, though it is radically humane. As Michael Connelly says in his touching afterward, "The book has a painter's soul and a terrorist's conscience...[Don't] we wish we all had the same journey, to a place where one choice could vanquish all the wrong we have done before it."

The Good Physician centres on a young doctor, Collin, who, after 9/11, wants to make a contribution to the war on terrorism, so signs up as a CIA doctor in Mexico City. There he is called to witnesses various acts of torture, which, as a doctor, he can't abide. In fact, all Collin really wants to do is paint. At the hotel where he lives in true artist fashion, he falls in love with a woman who has suffered an immense loss and is ready to pay the ultimate price while, at the same time, inflict the ultimate damage for her loss. At the same time, the doctor is also treating the wife of the head of the CIA office in Mexico. That man, Alex, who also appears in Red Jungle, The American Boys and Harrington latest The Rat Machine, is effectively Collin's boss. Not without a degree of humanity, he has, through the work he does, become hardened to everyone other than his wife.  When reports have come in that a bomb is passing through Mexico into the US, and Alex and his fellow agent have to stop it, and will do just about anything to do so.

One can imagine Hammett, had he lived into the 21st century, perhaps writing a book like this. It's world-weary like Hammett, but not cynical. It's about loss, but not without hope.  And, of course, it's also one of the best noir-oriented novels I've read for a quite a while. I'm only seven years behind the curve on this one,  but it was worth the wait.


Kent Morgan said...

I had read a couple of Harrington's novels and have a couple of books McMillan published so grabbed this one when I saw it at a recent library sale. Also got Bob Truluck's The Art of Redemption that also was published by McMillan. Both have short stories in McMillan's 2002 collection titled Measures of Poison. That book that is signed by 12 writers including Harrington is one book that won't be donated to a library sale.

Lou Boxer said...

Kent Harrington is one of the best writers alive today. Not only does he walk the walk, but he talks the talk. His writing is some of the best out there. If you have not had the opportunity to read Harrington, you have denied yourself one of life's great pleasures. One can only hope that Dennis McMillan returns to be the purveyor of the best writers in the world. Harrinton + McMillan = classic writing and publishing that stand the test of time!