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Onyx reviews: Run by Douglas E. Winter

"You should know right now, if you haven't figured it out yet, that I'm not the good guy." So says Burdon Lane, the protagonist of Run, the first novel by attorney, horror critic and anthology editor Douglas E. Winter.

Lane may not be the good guy, but he's the nearest thing this gritty, violent story has to a hero. Lane is a gunrunner and the "run" is a big arms-for-cash deal that takes him, along with his co-conspirators, from D.C. to the ghettoes of New York. Lane works for UniArms, Incorporated, a legitimate gun business that fronts for the illegal activities of owner Jules Berenger. Berenger will supply guns to anyone with the cash to pay for them. The current deal has two million dollars' worth of bearer bonds at stake.

Other things appear to be at stake, though, which worries Lane. Something doesn't feel right. Nothing feels right, in fact. All the wrong people are involved and no one is playing by the usual rules. Berenger expects Lane to be the dutiful soldier he has always been and just do his job, not ask any questions. That is Berenger's first mistake.

Lane lives in Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C., which he refers to as Dirty City. Lane is a racist and a cold-blooded killer in addition to being an arms dealer, but Winter manages to make the reader root for him. Like most rough-edged heroes, Lane has a sense of duty and a code of ethics that govern his actions.

The gun deal goes wrong, a politically sensitive figure is assassinated, and Lane finds himself running from and with Harlem gangs, his former coworkers and every three-letter law enforcement agency. In the aftermath of the debacle, Lane finds himself paired up with an unlikely partner, a hard-case gang member called Jinx. It is never certain from one moment to the next if these two are going to help each other or if they are just waiting for the opportunity to shoot each other in the back.

The novel is told in the form of a stream-of-consciousness discourse. There are no quotation marks in the entire book, though there is plenty of dialogue. This makes it occasionally difficult to differentiate between the words of other characters and Lane's monologue, but the technique pulls the reader fully into the story, right into the midst of shoot-outs—a particularly memorable one takes place just after the vows are said at a wedding—and harrowing getaways. Every bullet is personal, every wound painful, every death vivid.

This is not a novel for the weak of heart. The language is strong and decidedly un-PC. Lane's conversation is full of racial epithets, uttered in a completely casual, disarming manner. The gang members are unflinchingly real. Even so, Winter never misses the opportunity to show a human aspect in even the most lethal characters—or the traces of animal in the supposedly good ones.

Run is about guns. Expensive rifles, powerful pistols, cheap revolvers, all manner of guns. In the end, Lane, who never goes anywhere without one pistol in a shoulder holster and another tucked into the back of his pants, has a revelation about guns and their ready availability. He is ultimately able to unload the bullets and let his weapons slip from his hands. The moralistic passage may seem heavy-handed and preachy, but when it is the newspapers and not novels that tell of guns in the hands of six-year olds, perhaps Winter has a point.

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