Writer Thomas Harris wrote the books behind the collection of films featuring the evil character Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Before that he thrilled us with another book that was made into a movie of the same name. That was Black Sunday. I obtained the Kindle edition, and that’s what I’m reviewing here. I’ve ordered the DVD, and I will review the movie next week. Since it’s been a few years since I saw the movie, my descriptions of the movie here are from Wikipedia and IMDB.
The book opens about where the movie does. Some Israeli agents raid a house in Beirut and kill members of Black September, who are planning an attack within the United States. Major David Karakov kills the leader, Hafez Najeer, but he does not shoot young and sexy Dahlia Iyad, who has just stepped naked from the shower. It’s an omission he lives to regret.
The naked girl in the bathroom doorway seemed frozen in horror. The killer pointed his machine gun at her wet breast. His finger tightened on the trigger. It was a beautiful breast. The muzzle of the machine gun wavered.
“Put on some clothes, you Arab slut,” he said, and backed out of the room.
Harris, Thomas (2001-02-01). Black Sunday (p. 19). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Michael Lander is a cashiered U.S. Navy pilot who has grown sour on the world and on the United States in particular. His plan is to detonate a huge fragmentation charge above the Super Bowl crowd in Tulane Stadium, and Dahlia is assigned to give him all necessary assistance. Lander has a job piloting a blimp that tours major events, such as the Super Bowl, and he has designed a bomb that he will attach to the blimp’s gondola and detonate during the game, spraying a cloud of .177 caliber darts (flechettes) into the stands.
Black September arranges the delivery of over 1000 pounds of plastic explosive, and the adventure begins with intrigue, double cross and murder as the shipment makes its way from Libya to America by a smuggler’s ship.
The book is from 1975, when news of PLO reprisal attacks at the Munich Olympic Games and the high jacking and destruction of airliners filled television bandwidth and newspaper headlines. At this early stage in the game writer Thomas Harris exhibits laudable command of the workings of organizations like Black September and the Israeli Mossad.
From only two of his books I’m getting the idea Harris likes to draw out the character development of his villainous creations. In the film we see Lander merely as ex-military with a hard on for the world. In the book Harris takes us into Lander’s childhood reverses and fitful development. He left home to join the Navy and never returned. When an outstanding Navy career ends in disgrace he sinks into bitterness and depraved savagery. His murder of thousands at the Super Bowl will be his grand exit from the world that betrayed him.
The final story is an intricate plot that involves Sander’s psychotic mood swings, intrigues associated with recovering the explosive shipment from the freighter, revenge killings and killings of convenience, all leading to the unraveling of the saboteurs’ plot as Major Karakov and Sergeant Moshevsky work with the FBI to track down the explosives and the suspected American pilot involved. Personal disasters in the final days of the plot drive Black September operative Muhammad Fasil into hasty action that produces the ultimate breakdown of the plot.
Until the last, Karakov and the FBI have not been able to identify or locate Lander and Dahlia, and the two are already on their suicide run when the final chase begins.
And that’s about all you get without telling the plot. The only other book I have read by Harris is Red Dragon, the book behind Manhunter, the first of the Hannibal Lecter films. I’ve completed a review of Manhunter, and that’s going to be posted in a few weeks. A review of Red Dragon will come out about the same time.
Obviously Black Sunday saw publication in the years before computer typesetting was de rigueur, which means the Kindle edition was produced from hard copy and not from a computer file. When OCR translation is employed, and the editor is not careful, character substitutions and format failures can appear in the final. Here are some examples:
Dr. Rachel Bauman, psy chiatric resident at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York turned volunteer battlefield surgeon, removed the slug that had notched Kabakov’s collarbone.
Harris, Thomas (2001-02-01). Black Sunday (pp. 134-135). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Its Nau gahyde booths and dim bar drew people from two worlds— the paycheck playboys and the big-money yachting people who liked to slum.
Harris, Thomas (2001-02-01). Black Sunday (p. 212). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
These are positive roadblocks that will stop a vehicle athigh speed. I don’t want to see anybody standing beside a sawhorse waving down traffic. The roadblocks will dose tight as soon as the stadium is filled.”
Harris, Thomas (2001-02-01). Black Sunday (p. 293). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
There are these plus a few more. There are also a few plot holes. Here’s the one I’m going to bear down on, and a spoiler alert should be taken. Read on.
Lander comes down with viral pneumonia. Let’s disregard the manner in which he gets viral pneumonia. I’m no physician, but what happened to him would not be expected to produce viral pneumonia. That aside, he’s not going to be able to fly the blimp mission on Super Bowl Sunday. So Fasil orders in a helicopter pilot with the aim to hijack a large helicopter. That falls through, and Fasil and his helicopter pilot get arrested after a fierce gunfight.
Days drag on, and Black Sunday approaches. FBI and police know for sure now an attempt was planned for the Super Bowl, but they have not located the explosives. And they have not located Dahlia and Lander. They are taking maximum precautions at the Super Bowl. But they do not swarm the blimp with security? What kind of FBI is this? And what was Harris thinking?
Of course, if the FBI had done in the book what the FBI does in real life, the book would have ended with at most a gunfight at the blimp pad, and that would have been that. No giant explosion to bring the plot to a fiery conclusion.
Sick in the mind as he is, Michael Lander gives an assessment of Middle East psychology that closely parallels mine:
“You people really get me. This is why the Israelis beat you with such regularity, you’re always thinking about revenge, trying to get them back for what happened last week. And you’re willing to risk this whole thing, just for revenge.”
“Kabakov must die,” Fasil said, his voice rising.
Harris, Thomas (2001-02-01). Black Sunday (p. 145). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
And that sort of thing is what brings down the Black September plot in the end.
My advice, watch the movie before you read the book. Harris’s novel is a great tale of intrigue, but like all tales deeper than about half an inch it had to be gutted for the movie. The movie is going to be entertaining. The book is going to absorb you for most of a day, provided you can get past the plot holes large and small.