The Lion: DeMille goes from roar to snore

Let me think . . . should I issue a spoiler alert here?

Nah.  I mean, for whom?  The two people who are reading this blog? And those two people probably already don’t need to be protected from hearing that the likely outcome of a showdown between Nelson DeMille hero John Corey and his arch nemesis Asad Khalil will not be the destruction of John Corey.  DeMille as much as admits this in an interview with Scott Brick after the book.

But whoa, whoa. I’m getting way the fuck ahead of myself.

The Lion, by Nelson Demille, as almost everyone knows, is the sequel of sorts to The Lion’s Game, in which John Corey, a retired New York City police officer and member of an interagency taskforce on terror, first encounters Khalil. No need to go into all the details of that book, except to say that the plot—the ingenious and evil Khalil methodically taking revenge on Americans who he believes were responsible for the death of his family while Corey seeks relentlessly to thwart him—is a rush. For some reason that I can’t quite explain it reminds me of the action sequences in movies—I first noticed it in The Matrix, and of course it’s become a total cliché now. You know what I’m talking about, that stop-action technique. I think they call it “bullet time.”

Notwithstanding how apt that comparison might be, I didn’t get the same sense of exhilaration in The Lion that I had gotten from the effect in The Lion’s Game. For example, DeMille tries to pull it off early in the second book by having Khalil attack while Corey and his wife, Kate Mayfield, are on a skydiving adventure. It becomes even more adventurous when Khalil, who has snuck onto the plane as one of the recreational skydivers, attaches himself to Kate during their freefall and tries to kill her while Corey watches in the midst of his own freefall. It’s a scene that should be almost literally breathtaking—as was the scene in The Lion’s Game when the plane carrying Khalil to the United States lands minus all the crew and passengers except for one: Asad Khalil. But the skydiving scene struck me as preposterous—more appropriate to a James Bond movie than to a novel by a writer of DeMille’s caliber.

And don’t even get me started on knife fighting, which is okay for something like West Side Story, with all that nifty choreography. But knife fights, especially the extended versions involving, first Khalil and his Russian mentor, then Khalil and Corey, just don’t cut it, so to speak, in The Lion. I’ve never been in a knife fight, though I have actually seen one. It lasted about twenty seconds. However, the knife fights in The Lion are so complicated from a narrative standpoint that I’ve seen people put together 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles in the time it took them to run their course. I believe it is simply difficult to render in prose the action of a knife fight, so I don’t necessarily fault DeMille for the execution. Just for deciding to try it in the first place. I mean, I understand why he did it. He wanted these confrontations between Khalil and his enemies to be up close and personal (a good deal of facial biting !!! takes place in the Corey-Khalil bout), and there’s no question there is something intimate and ritualistic—almost erotic—about the activity. Not that I’m trying to psychoanalyze DeMille. I’m sure he has enough resources to find more qualified people than I to do that.

I don’t know. I just found this book a little predictable, a little tired. Maybe it’s all the extended conversations that sort of fill out this novel. It’s very talky. Maybe that’s why – OKAY, SPOILER ALERT – DeMille has Corey finally kill Khalil by virtually stapling his mouth shut with a knife, as if to say, you may or may not die from this, but you will definitely have to shut the fuck up for a few pages.

On the bright side, however, I still found the character of John Corey interesting. He’s an intelligent, principled guy with a great sense of humor, all of which is made more believable by the work of Scott Brick in interpreting the character. Brick is one of the great readers of audiobooks around today. And he is the definitive John Corey. I don’t see how anybody could do that character after him.

Ultimately it’s just possible that my expectations were just too high for this sequel. DeMille may have set the bar too high with The Lion’s Game, which I can still highly recommend, even if you’ve gotten this far and you know that it’s a game that Khalil eventually loses.

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