Saturday, July 23, 2011
A Father and Son Affair
Sometimes, the more famous writer picks out a collaborator from less-established authors or those looking for a break. And sometimes, they find the collaborator right under their own roof, as Dick Francis did with his son Felix, Clive Cussler did with his son Dirk and W.E.B. Griffin did with his son, William E. Butterworth IV. Of course, being the son of a famous writer is no guarantor of writing ability or talent. The Francis duo seem to be handling the meld smoothly, but Dirk Cussler has taken a little time to get up to speed with his father Clive -- not a huge liability since Clive himself is a great yarn-spinner but no master of prose style.
And then there are the Butterworths. Griffin, who was born William E. Butterworth III, has had a long career with several series of action/adventure novels set in World War II, in modern counter-terrorism and, with the Badge of Honor series, modern-day big city policing. Griffin's own style reads almost like a parody of tough-guy red-blooded adventure novels -- he is one of the few post-pulp-era writers I have ever seen who uses the phrase "bountiful breasts" as straight description without any irony whatsoever. But his son's influence has smoothed the stories considerably and reduced the guffaw factor by several times. Vigilantes is a good example.
Detective Matt Payne, one of the mainstay characters of the Badge of Honor series, finds himself trying to solve the mystery of a series of "pop-and-drop" murders in Philadelphia. Someone is tracking down men who accused of sexual crimes against women or children who either fled after posting bail or who escaped conviction on a technicality, and killing them. Although Philly police aren't all that broken up by these deaths, the worry that a rise of vigilantism could do a lot of harm and endanger innocents as well as the guilty. A millionaire who offers a reward for the capture of some of these felons -- dead or alive -- isn't helping matters.
In Griffin (the elder Butterworth)'s hands, one could see this story filled with a speech or two about taking the streets back from criminals and some similar ham-handed narrative killers. But Butterworth IV weaves the preaching into the story, basing much of his exposition on real-life reporting or stories about actual areas of Philadelphia and events that happen there. I'll pick up a Griffin solo book if I can't find anything else on the shelves, but the Griffin-Butterworth collaborations are actually fun reads. I hope that Butterworth IV can maintain this kind of output when his father passes on or finally retires and that it's not just a luxury he has while collaborating.