- Hardcover: 464 pages
- Publisher: Forge Books; 1st edition (November 26, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765302020
- ISBN-13: 978-0765302021
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,116,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Man Who Fought Alone Hardcover – November 26, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
The fourth book in bestseller Donaldson's "The Man Who..." mystery series (previously written under the pseudonym Reed Stephens) continues the story of ex-PI Mick ("Brew") Axbrewder and his search for redemption after the accidental shooting death of his own brother. Brew and former partner and lover Ginny Fistoulari are barely speaking to each other, but she won't leave him until he's healed from the gunshot wound he received taking down the local drug lord. Gone to ground in a new city, Ginny finds work with old college friend and PI Marshal Viviter. Despite his scorn for martial arts violence and his self-doubt about working without Ginny at his side Brew takes a job working security at a martial arts tournament. The tournament centerpiece, a display of priceless antique "chops" (Chinese print blocks) depicting martial arts poses, has stirred up bad blood between the area's rival martial arts schools over its ownership and murky provenance. A murder at the tournament seems unrelated, but Brew connects it to the chops. While Donaldson inadvertently gives away the killer's identity midway through the book (though Brew somehow doesn't put it together), the murderer's full motivation is revealed slowly enough to maintain tension. The author's shotokan karate experience (he's a second degree black belt) lends the martial arts scenes an authoritative touch. Fans of Donaldson's better known fantasy (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series) and his cranky, self-involved antiheroes will find familiar enough territory to satisfy them. (Nov. 26)Forecast: Donaldson hasn't written a mystery for more than a decade. Depending on advertising, the book may well do better with crossover SF and fantasy fans than genre mystery readers.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
For two weeks Ginny concentrated on taking care of me. Ordinarily she didn't have much tolerance for inactivity, but she stood it with as much grace as she could muster. She force-fed me pills, changed my bandages, stocked the pantry and fridge, picked up tapes and books to keep me from driving her crazy, and generally made herself responsible for my recuperation.
A week or so after being shot, I could walk upright most of the time, and her regimen of vitamins and antibiotics had just about knocked out the infection. But I still couldn't move fast, or think very quickly, or tie my shoes without groaning.
She even kept the apartment clean, which was usually my job, since even her best friends never accused her of being tidy. Compensation, I think. If you've got a mind like a ledger, you surround yourself with the most ungodly mess. But if your head could stand in for a witches' cauldron, you're inclined to clean everything in sight. Whenever she mopped or dusted, I had to bite my tongue so that I wouldn't nag her about missing the corners.
I kept my mouth shut because I didn't want to punish her for taking care of me. It wasn't her fault I had a hole in my stomach.
We were private investigators--by which I mean, she was. Ginny Fistoulari, owner and sole proprietor of Fistoulari Investigations. Tall and good-looking. So good-looking, in fact, that you would've considered her beautiful if you liked broken noses. Mid-thirties. Lean and poised, ready for anything. And keen as a hatchet.
Or she used to be, until she lost her left hand during the case that first got me in trouble with el Señor, Puerta del Sol's only real crime lord. For a while afterward, she felt so I maimed and maybe unloved--or unworthy--that she could hardly figure out how to go on living. But now, after a period of what you might call disarray, she'd started to regain her edge. She wore a stainless steel prosthesis--her "claw"--with two hooks that worked like pincers off the muscles of her forearm. She could pick up all kinds of things with it. Also punch holes in double-glazed windows. And because the edges of the hooks down near the base were sharp, she could cut things with it--tape, string, cloth, even rope if it wasn't too thick.
Years ago I was her partner, but I'd lost my license. Negligent manslaughter, the commission called it. I'd killed a man whose only crime was being nearby while I was drunk. Other than that, he was just a cop trying to chase down a purse snatcher.
Unfortunately he also happened to be my younger brother.
Since the purse snatcher had a gun, I wasn't indicted. In one sense or another, I'd tried to stop him with "necessary force." But Puerta del Sol's licensing commission would never re-certify me, so now I was just the hired help at Fistoulari Investigations.
I wanted to be Ginny's partner again. I wanted to earn it. But I wasn't there yet.
I'm Mick Axbrewder. I always liked to say that no one calls me Mick, but the truth was that people by the busload did it practically all the time. Everyone who elicited even a smidgen of restraint from me did it with impunity. I probably hadn't actively punched out someone who used my first name since my last binge.
I was what you might politely call a recovering alcoholic. Back in my drinking days, I had "the courage of my convictions," if nothing else. Put your hand on me, and I broke it. Call me Mick, and I rearranged your face. But now? Something had replaced that kind of courage, but I wasn't exactly sure what it was.
That's probably all anyone actually needs to know about me. Everything else is just more of the same.
I'm too tall. And I used to weigh too much, but recently a thug named Muy Estobal put me on a .38 caliber diet, and I slimmed down nicely. On those days when my vanity poked its battered head out of the closet, I was proud that I had to tighten my belt an extra notch to keep my pants up.
Indirectly, Estobal was the reason Ginny and I came to Carner. His version of a diet involved shooting me in the gut--which didn't do much to improve my already sour temper. In a fit of pique, you might say, I thanked him by breaking his neck. Unfortunately he worked for el Señor, and his boss took exception to his demise. After a week or so, the crime lord succeeded in running Ginny and me out of town.
Or maybe I should say she got me out to keep me alive. But any way you looked at it, we were pretty far from home. After our last job, we drove here in Ginny's worn-out Olds, with me sprawled along the back seat hugging my guts most of the way. She found us a cheap apartment in a building that looked like a poster child for Genteel Poverty, and we moved in for the duration.
She'd chosen Carner for the simple and sufficient reason that she had a contact here who might help her get a job while we waited for el Señor to get tired of craving my blood.
When I was feeling optimistic, I thought Ginny and I were back on the road to being partners. Maybe even to being lovers. The rest of the time I knew better.
Most of the time, her bedside manner stank. She detested being my nurse. But I was used to that. What I couldn't adjust to was the way I felt with our caretaking roles reversed.
For six months after she'd lost her hand, I'd been the nanny. And she'd hated it--hated it so bad that it charred her heart. But she hadn't believed that she had any choice, so she'd turned as much of her anger against herself as she could. In the process, I'd damn near lost her.
You'd have thought that might make me more sympathetic now. For some reason, it didn't. I disliked my pain, hated my general uselessness, and positively loathed being dependent on her. Occasionally I was so charming about it that I said things like, "I guess when this is over we'll be even."
She gave me one of her special glares--the kind that made complete strangers duck for cover--but she didn't pretend to misunderstand. Instead she muttered, "I'm not keeping score."
"Maybe not. But you were. The one who feels like a cripple always keeps score. This time it's my turn."
"That's right." She turned her glare on one of the chairs and watched it cower. "And the way I count, if you don't shut up about it we're never going to be even."
She was using her take-no-prisoners voice. If I hadn't been such an asshole, I probably would've winced. The chair sure did.
Sometimes--mostly late at night after she went to bed, and I couldn't distract myself with inane remarks--I got the distinct impression that I was living on borrowed time. She'd made a point of renting an apartment with separate bedrooms. In the dark hours I was sure that her reasons for wanting her own room had nothing to do with letting the wounded man sleep soundly.
When irritation and waiting got the better of her during those two weeks, she made phone calls. Business, most of them. We'd left Puerta del Sol in a hurry, and she still had details to take care of--banking, mail, credit cards, the leases on her apartment and office, insurance, that sort of thing. And she harassed the commission regularly.
They'd suspended her license after I killed Estobal. Not because of him, but because she'd killed our client. Which didn't exactly make the commission feel all warm and fuzzy about her. She'd done it in self-defense, but the ethics committee still took joy in delaying her reinstatement.
Naturally she wanted her license back.
Since she needed a job, she also got in touch with her contact--the reason we'd driven to Carner instead of some other, more familiar city.
In college, she told me, she'd been friends with a man named Marshal Viviter. Just friends, she told me. After college, he'd been a cop in Puerta del Sol for a few years, so they'd stayed friends. But he was ambitious, and when he quit the force to become a private investigator, he'd left Puerta del Sol because--she told me--he wanted to work somewhere with more money and a bigger client base. Apparently Carner fit his requirements.
As it turned out, the city supported an entire gaggle of rent-a-cops and snoops. Which made sense in a town where so much cash changed hands all the time. But he'd made a success of it, despite the competition. His ad in the yellow pages--"Professional Investigations: proven, prompt, discreet"--was ostentatious enough to sell cosmetics.
Her first call to this Viviter left her smiling, something that I hadn't seen in more than a week. Until her face lifted, I hadn't realized how much strain she carried around. Marshal, she reported, had more clients than he could handle. He wanted her to come in for an interview, discuss the situation, but off the top of his head he didn't see why he wouldn't be able to put her to work right away.
For some reason, I didn't ask the obvious question. Put you to work? Not us? Maybe all those antibiotics had killed off my intuition as well as my common sense. Instead I challenged her.
"Does he know about your license?"
If I'd been listening to myself, I would've known I was in trouble. Whenever I started to act like a professional nag, something went wrong. But I wasn't paying any attention.
Her smile disappeared like closing a shutter. "Of course he knows," she snapped. "What do you think? I can't get a job unless I lie to prospective employers?"
I waved a hand airily. Axbrewder the effete invalid. "You know that's not what I meant. I'm just surprised that he's allowed to hire you with your license suspended."
She studied me for a minute, then sighed. Got a grip on herself. But her smile didn't open again.
"The laws are different in this state. His whole office rides on his license. He can hire the homeless if he wants to. As long as he accepts responsibility for everything they do. If they screw up, it's his problem."
She shrugged. "That's why he needs an interview. He's known me for a long time, but he still has to be sure what he's hiring." Her attention trailed away. "We haven't seen each other for years."
I let it go. What lay behind it was too scary to contemplate.
But the second time she called her old friend, they talked for a long time. On the phone in her bedroom, with the door closed. And when she emerged she wore an expression that I'd never seen on her face before.
She looked wistful.
Ginny go-for-broke Fistoulari, the eager racehorse champing at the bit. She looked wistful?
I was splayed out on the couch at the time. I sat up, acting like my stomach hurt worse than it actually did. "So what did he say?"
Ignoring my performance, she shook her head absently, her mind still on the phone. "Nothing, really." Hell, she even sounded wistful. "We talked about old times. People we used to know." A faint smile softened her mouth. "There was this guy in college. We figured out he was cheating on his exams. Of course, we didn't want to snitch on him. But we also didn't want him messing up the curve for the rest of us. So we worked out this elaborate con to trick him into betraying himself."
She drifted farther away. "I can't remember the last time I had that much fun. Now everything matters too much."
For some reason, my heart had started to jump and spatter like beads of water on a hot griddle. I was only convalescent, not stupid. The Ginny I'd known for years hadn't cared much about fun. Or she hadn't let it show--
Mostly because I wanted to be able to recognize her again, I asked, "Did you tell him about your hand?"
Then I flinched to myself. That question was a low blow, and I expected her to lash back.
But she didn't. Instead she simply turned away, picked up her purse, and walked to the front door. Without a word, she left the apartment.
All of a sudden I felt more completely alone than any time since we'd left Puerta del Sol. Actually, I hadn't felt that alone since I'd caught her in bed with another man.
Because she hadn't said it, I told myself for her, Axbrewder, you are such a nice man. You didn't feel bad enough about it when she was maimed and dependent, and hated herself even more than she hated you? You want her to go back there?
Unfortunately that didn't relieve my alarm. Sweat oozed inside my bandages, and my heart rattled around in my chest like it'd broken loose.
I couldn't pretend there was nothing wrong.
Making a production out of it, I got to my feet. But I didn't fool anyone. I wasn't well yet, but I was a hell of a lot closer to it than I'd been for a while. No matter what I felt like at the moment.
Exercise was supposed to be good for me, so I started pacing. At first I couldn't be bothered to stand up straight. But then I managed to stiffen my spine and do better.
One of my more ambiguous gifts was an ability to recall conversations pretty much word-for-word. Now I couldn't help remembering the last time Ginny and I'd really talked to each other.
First she'd said, I thought I'd have to carry your self-pity and your stupid drinking around on my back for the rest of my life. I wanted to believe I was strong enough, but I knew I wasn't.
When I'd asked her what she wanted to do about it, she'd answered, The truth is, I don't know what I want. I don't know how I feel about you. I don't like cripples. don't like being one, and I don't like you when you're one. But then she'd corrected herself. I want you to go away with me. Somewhere we can think. If we have reasons to go on, I don't know it right now. And if we're finished, I'm not going to admit it until I've had a chance to think.
Before that conversation, I'd believed she was going to say goodbye. When she'd insisted instead on taking me out of el Señor's way, I'd nearly collapsed in relief. But now I wondered how I'd contrived to confuse myself so completely.
She'd had a week and a half to think. Judging by appearances, she'd reached conclusions I suddenly didn't want to hear.
I don't like cripples.
Since she wasn't there to argue with me, I decided to exercise with a bit more fervor. Proving how tough I was, I took a bandsaw to my guts by attempting a push-up--and almost survived the experience. Which did wonders for what I liked to call my clarity of mind. If we have reasons to go on, I don't know it right now. Obviously I wasn't ready for that. Muttering curses, I levered my body upright on the arm of the couch and went back to ordinary pacing.
I promised myself that I'd apologize when she came back. But when she did, the words stuck in my chest.
She looked at me just once, straight and hard. "No, I didn't tell him." Her tone reminded me of push-ups. Like me, she'd almost survived. "I can't exactly hide it, but I'd rather deal with it in person."
Then she concentrated on ignoring me for the rest of the day.
From then on I drove my exercises harder. I probably would've been well by now if I hadn't given myself peritonitis by neglecting my pills. One thing for sure, I knew how to be crippled.
That had to change. This time, I promised myself--this time I'd be stronger.
Naturally pacing got old. Also it made Ginny twitch. So as soon as she bought me a pair of sunglasses I started walking outside. I did laps around the blocks in our neighborhood until I had them memorized. Since push-ups were too much for me, and I didn't even want to think about sit-ups, I started on squats. The first day I worked my way up to one.
That night I was so sore I thought I'd torn something inside. But I kept at it.
Against no detectable resistance, I began to pick up some of the cleaning chores. And from there I planned to move on to cooking. I thought I'd be able to handle that. In a week or so, I told myself, I'd be ready to go back to work. Then she could stop waiting for me.
The next Monday, she went for her interview with Professional Investigations. She didn't ask me if I felt well enough to go along--she just went by herself. Which made my bowels squirm in ways that resembled entry wounds. But I still tried not to understand. Apparently I'd forgotten how to trust my intuition.
So I decided to cook a special meal to welcome her back. Also, presumably, to congratulate her. First I cleaned the apartment the way it should've been cleaned all along. I even took my life in my hands and cleaned her room, just to show that I never did actually learn anything from experience. Then I took over the kitchen.
But she didn't come back. She didn't call.
Eventually the first meal was ruined, so I made another one. I defrosted die fridge, which didn't need it, and scrubbed out the pantry, which did. After a couple of years, the sun gave up and let electricity take over, but I didn't turn on any lights. Or the TV. Or my optimism. Instead I stripped down my .45, took a fine brush and gun oil to all the parts, then put it back together so that the mechanism clacked with the surgical precision of a guillotine. Next I greased fresh rounds and nestled them in the magazine. Finally I oiled and polished my shoulder holster until the leather flexed like skin.
After that I sat alone in the dark. Outside, Carner shone like a nuclear blast, but I kept the blinds closed and contemplated my sins.
She didn't show up until after midnight. I heard her heels outside the door before she got her key into the lock, which gave me plenty of warning.
She came in without turning on any lights. Apparently she thought that she could avoid disturbing me. She may have been humming under her breath, but I couldn't be sure. My heart laid down a barrage so heavy that I didn't trust my ears.
We talked about it in the dark.
I kept it simple. "Where were you?"
"I had my interview," she answered softly. I couldn't tell whether she was glaring at me or not. But every word had the force of a bullet in flight. They were so accurate that she might've been using tracers. "Marshal showed me around. We had dinner. We talked.
"I didn't try to keep track of the time."
No, of course not. Why should she?
My next question sounded thick, labored--congested by bandages and self-neglect.
"Did we get the job?"
Her voice might've come from anywhere in the room. "Not we. I. I got the job. You're on your own."
A gulf opened at my feet. I sat still and hugged my chest so that I wouldn't fall into it.
She pushed it wider. "We'll stay here until you're well enough to find work. Then I'll move somewhere else." No ground remained between us. "Or you can move, if this rent's too high."
When I couldn't say anything, she went into her room and closed the door. That was a good thing. I didn't really want her to hear me whimper like a beaten hound.
Copyright © 2001 by Stephen R. Donaldson
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It hasn't happened yet, though. This series of mysteries (The Man Who Killed His Brother, The Man Who Risked His Partner, The Man Who Tries to Get Away, and now The Man Who Fought Alone) is another great series, stylistically quite different from any of his other books. I find it a bit hard to describe: the previous books in the series have been almost-parodies of stock detective-book plots; stock plots that Donaldson has injected with his own unique (often dark) perspective, effectively combined with a frequently light attitude that can really be quite humorous. The Man Who Fought Alone is more straighforward and less humorous than previous books, although the overall feel of the book is a bit lighter as Axebrewder starts to bring his life under control. Donaldon has managed to work the martial arts theme quite well too, with a look inside the world or martial arts competition which is both interesting and manages to develop good characters. This is what always draws me to Stephen R. Donalson's books, the wonderfully textured and developed characters, each with their own strengths and foibles and, well, character that really stands out in a genre that is not know for such things.
Now, the start of the book is a bit slow, and it's overall not quite as tight as previous entries in the series. The first few chapters will probably have a few long-time Donaldson fans rolling their eyes a bit as old Axebrewder goes on his lengthy "woe is me" bit. After this slightly rocky start, though, the book really does take off and it thoroghly engrossed me. It's not quite the best in the series, but the series is quite good and The Man Who Fought Alone is highly recommended. I'm glad that it looks like the whole series is being re-issued in hardback under Stephen R. Donaldson's real name (they were previously published under a pseudonym, Reed Stephens); they've been hard-to-get for some time and given his success, this is long overdue.
While I don't think of SRD as a god like some do I still consider him to be my favorite author. I have read everything that I could find by him and I must admit that this is not his best. Please don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the Mick Axbrewder series quite a bit. I just wouldn't read this series six times as I have the "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant" or five times like "The Gap Series". (not sure if quotes are appropriate but who cares) I certainly am not waiting breathlessly for the next book in the series like SRD has made me do so many times before.
If you are reading this to help you make a decision about a purchase I'm sorry that I can't help you. If you are a great SRD fan you may want to try this series but you may be disappointed.
There is one thing that you may want to consider. More people have asked to borrow this series than anything else in my home library. Every single person that borrowed it loved it. I'm not making any kind of value judgement based on that. I am just reporting the facts.
SRD paints his characters with brilliant brush strokes that leave a reader in no doubt as to what makes them tick. Additionally, I appreciated the learning curve offered by the author in this book that really helps one's understanding of the real and the more esoteric practices of the martial arts. It is a subject that can be pretty confusing unless one is involved in that area of study.
The plot was fairly straightforward and I knew about the first third of the book who the "villan" would be. This was an interesting twist in his style for the reader to have the CLUE, while the hero was left to navigate the minefields of being clueless which the author dressed up as hunches. Nice touch. All in all, I have to say that I like "Brew" a lot as a character and hope to see him around again. And again. Thanks for a cool yarn SRD!
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