In the last of these columns, I compared (after saying I wouldn’t) an excellent work of noir fiction with a film that was made from its story. This time around I’m covering a book that simply reminds me of a favorite film. There are significant differences between the 1974 movie The Parallax View and Adam Kennedy’s 1975 novel The Domino Principle, but there are also striking resemblances. Both are sinister, tense, horrifying tales involving secret organizations who recruit assassins. Both are paranoia-inducing yarns that can make you feel like any of us could have our willpower taken away from us if certain entities decided they needed us. Both are of supremely high quality.
But we’re here to discuss Kennedy’s book. In addition to being a riveting thriller, it has some essential noir elements: it’s short and tight – not a wasted word from cover to cover. Its language is basic. It’s utterly devoid of romanticized notions. It’s angering and terrifying. It’s as suspenseful as it is hardboiled.
The story involves and is told by a guy named Roy Tucker. He’s doing time for killing his wife’s first husband, who’d also been his employer. He sometimes says he was innocent and that the guy offed himself and made it look like Tucker did it in an act of vengeance, Tucker having stolen his wife’s heart. Other times, you start the think Tucker may have committed that crime. In any case, he got convicted and now he’s in the pen, wasting away on a life sentence. But suuddenly, the warden has him in for a couple of strange meetings, and then introduces him to some gentlemen from the outside that appear to have some interest in him. Soon enough it becomes clear that these men have some kind of use for Tucker. They need his help so bad, they’re willing to get him out of prison. If gaining freedom from his cell isn’t enough motivation for Tucker to agree to their deal (whatever that might be – they’re not saying what he has to do for them), they throw in the add-on bait that they will reunite him with his wife. It’s clear that these men have the power to make all these things happen. And somebody that powerful must have some big plans for Tucker if they’re willing to do all that for him, right? Right.