Sunday, March 25, 2018

Book Review: The Owl

Book Review: 'The Owl' by Robert Forward
2 / 5 Stars

The Owl (247 pp) was published by Pinnacle Books in August 1984; the cover artist is uncredited.

A sequel, titled The Owl: Scarlet Serenade was published in 1990.

The Owl is set in Los Angeles in the early 1980s. The protagonist, Alexander L'Hiboux, suffers - if that's the right word - from 'insomnolence', the inability to sleep. This condition has led him to adopt the career of a vigilante for hire: The Owl. Throughout the L.A. underworld, the name of the Owl is enough to strike fear into the most vicious of criminals and evildoers, for the Owl doesn't rest until he has exacted vengeance.

The opening chapter of the novel is a textbook example of hard-boiled writing as the Owl copes with a mugger, resulting in a graphic depiction of gun violence and making clear to the reader that the Owl isn't one to be merciful to his enemies. Indeed, as the novel progresses, author Forward demonstrates that Alexander L'Hiboux is as psychotic in his zeal for vigilantism as the mental cases he encounters while wandering the late night streets of L.A.

Having set the tone in his initial chapters, author Forward then embarks on the main plot: a man named Paul Jackson has hired the Owl to find, and eliminate, the individual who maimed Jackson's 20 year-old daughter Lei with a blowtorch.

The appalling nature of this crime means that the Owl doesn't need much in the way of motivation to find the perpetrator. But nothing is as easy as it seems, and L'Hiboux soon finds himself targeted by a syndicate that has no qualms about snuffing out any vigilante who insists on sticking his nose into places where it doesn't belong..............  

Much like L. A. Morse's The Big Enchilada, the intensely hard-boiled nature of the author's prose style in The Owl will lead the reader to suspect that the narrative regularly crosses the line into parody, or even satire. 

This is particularly true of the second half of The Owl, and it's a real weakness as far as I was concerned: the Owl's escapades rapidly move from the realm of the private eye, to the realm of comic book superhero. I won't disclose any spoilers, but the shootouts with the bad guys and the resulting 'it was only a flesh wound, but it hurt like hell' contrivances had my eyes rolling.

It doesn't help matters that the obligatory four-page 'Explanation of Whodunnit' section in chapter 31 is so convoluted, and so dependent on lucky coincidences, that even after re-reading it several times, it remained incoherent.

The verdict ? Although it starts off very well, the latter half of the novel obliges the reader to willingly suspend belief........and then some. If you're willing to go that route then you may want to pick up The Owl. All others likely will want to pass.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to add that years ago there was an hour-long pilot made out of the book. The screenplay was written by the author and it starred Adrian Paul. I think CBS sat on it for a while before airing it as a Special Presentation (basically burning it off as a summer filler) in 1990 or 1991.