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According to Devore’s notes, “The Big Steal” would reveal the secret motives behind the 1989 CIA-backed coup that ousted the president of Panama, Manuel Noriega. In case you were wondering, Noriega allegedly had some smutty sex tapes, suitable for blackmail, of prominent U.S. political figures getting their rocks off with Panamanian prostitutes and fear-stoked cabana boys; the CIA (again, allegedly) wanted those sex tapes for their own nefarious purposes. Conveniently, Noriega—that feckless, fun-loving military dictator, fondly known as “Old Pineapple Face” among Panama’s beleaguered citizens—also had a huge stash of drug money just ripe for the taking, piled up from the days when he’d given a big assist to Ollie North’s Iran-Contra team.
British academic Dr. Matthew Alford’s brilliant new book, The Writer with No Hands, documents his own funny, fumbling, and increasingly paranoid quest to answer the questions that were raised when Devore’s handless corpse was found marinating in a white Ford Explorer under thirty feet of water in a California aqueduct almost exactly one year after he disappeared. The laptop computer with the completed script for “The Big Steal” that Devore was traveling with was never recovered—as you might expect—and any other data on his home computer was soon 'misplaced' in the hubbub of Federal activity following his disappearance.
The majority of US citizens might not want to believe that potential whistleblowers like Gary Devore get terminated with extreme prejudice in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, but it’s been known to happen—just ask Gary Webb, Danny Casolaro, Mark Lombardi, Philip Marshall, or Michael Hastings. Oh wait… you can’t ask those guys—they’re all dead. Much of the dark humor in Dr. Alford’s book comes from his escalating suspicions that he might be next on the CIA’s hit list.
Devore, a former truck driver, caught his first screenwriting break when he adapted Frederick Forsyth’s novel, The Dogs of War, into a script for the 1980 film of the same name that starred Christopher Walken. Forsyth has admitted that he wrote The Dogs of War while he was working as a spy for MI6, so right from the start there was a murky intelligence agency connection to Devore’s chosen career path. That intelligence agency connection became more overt after Tommy Lee Jones asked Devore to be his best man at his 1981 wedding, during which, Dr. Alford informs us, “Gary befriended Jones’ cousin, CIA operative Chase Brandon, described (as) ‘the real Jack Bauer’.” Chase Brandon became a public figure in the mid-1990s when he was assigned to head up the CIA’s Hollywood liaison office. It is suggested in Dr. Alford’s book that when Devore apparently began making research trips to Central America for “The Big Steal” he might have been accompanied by government operatives who gave him the inside scoop on Noriega’s takedown.
(What is it with Tommy Lee Jones, anyway? He and former Vice President Al Gore were roommates at Harvard; he had starring roles in The Fugitive, JFK, and the Men In Black franchise; and now we find out that his CIA cousin has been influencing movies like The Sum of All Fears, Enemy of the State, and In the Company of Spies. Weird.)
Prior to his work on “The Big Steal,” Devore had written some minor Hollywood hits like 1986’s Running Scared, starring Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal, and Raw Deal, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’d also put his depraved sense of humor on display in a movie called Traxx (1988), in which Shadoe Stevens played a “smug, rutting lunatic” and Robert Davi accidentally self-immolated in a Jaguar during “the tackiest, most gratuitous fart gag… ever to grace the silver screen.” (Don’t believe Dr. Alford? Check it out for yourself on YouTube. Just do a search for “Robert Davi Farts, Car Explodes, Science Weeps.”)
Dr. Alford singles out Traxx as a “sign of Gary’s degenerating trust in simplistic moral arbiters, from the muscle-bound vengeance of Sly Stallone’s Rambo to the US-sponsored death squads that were laying waste to Central America at the time.” He went on to say: “It is one of the most subversive films I have ever seen.” He should know—Dr. Alford also happens to be a film scholar whose previous book, Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy, explored the political impact of the military-industrial-intelligence complex on Hollywood movies.
For me, the most singular pleasure in The Writer with No Hands comes from reading about hapless Dr. Alford’s own spiraling descent into obsession and paranoia as the Gary Devore case takes over his life. I understand that a documentary of the same name has been made about the good doctor’s quixotic adventure. It won the Tablet of Honor at the 2014 Ammar Popular Film Festival (in Iran—who knew?) and it is said to be “as beguiling as the mystery it is trying to solve.” According to Vice Magazine, the film version of The Writer with No Hands is supposed to be in theaters sometime in 2017. I look forward to watching it.
In the meantime, there’s the book, which I highly recommend. Dr. Matthew Alford’s Pynchonesque journey into the heart of Hollywood darkness is guaranteed to ramp up the anxiety of any post-Snowden conspiracy analyst, while provoking some nervous laughter along the way.
I am still baffled by the logistics of this case and every time it resurfaces I find myself on the fence. This book adds so much more to the potential list of possibilities that one familiar with the case might conclude that there is not a chance this was just some random 'accident' - Matthew Alford's book and the mystery of Gary Devore surrounded with all of the plausible yet highly unbelievable theories sound like ideas and notes taken from a hit screenplay written by Devore himself. The information provided in this book is enough to make even the most rational John Q Citizen consider the possible advantages of using tin foil as a fashionable piece of headgear, if only for a minute or two.
I applaud the efforts the author undertook in order to produce an informative and often at times, entertaining read. The amount of pulp scrap and information needed to weed and sort through to get a manageable amount of content for a book that doesn't sacrifice the facts and foundation surrounding the case was no doubt an overwhelming task, and the author presents it in a crafty and witty package - and the reader is pretty much left with a multiple choice selection as to how the story of what really happened to Gary Devore concludes.
Fill in the blank with your choice of endings based upon the content presented and no matter what your selection, the reader will never be certain that their choice is correct. Not to plagiarize a once very popular television show's tagline, but 'the truth is out there' (and seriously, no pun intended) - Make no mistake, I'm not even hinting of the possibility that Mr. Devore might of been kidnapped by alien space ninjas and teleported to some other dimension; that would at least lend credence to closure in this saga. The new evidence provided in this book boldly eludes that there is a much darker set of theories and reasons that our very own domestic, earthbound U.S. Government was involved in/with and/or aided/participated in the disappearance of Gary Devore . . .
. . . Or Gary Devore simply drove his car into the F%&king aqueduct, the result of a sleep deprived, fatigued driver pushing his luck to make it home who kept driving when he should of stopped at a hotel and rested instead that night. There's plenty of evidence that supports this too.
However, given the facts and additional mystery surrounding this case, this is either the most sensational mountain out of a molehill explanation for a simple accident ever to be spun into a yarn of permanent mystery, or even more unsettling, the tangible proof that shows the lengths that the government is capable of going to in order to keep their secrets, well, a secret.
Regardless of what you choose to believe, the material is a good read, broken up with interwoven aspects of the events, experiences and witty opinion of the author that gives the reader a 'behind the scenes' perspective of the up's and downs of researching and writing this story. While there may not be any closure to the mystery of what really happened to Gary Devore, the author gracefully ends this book with a humble acknowledgement of this. A writer could make a career from the backstory and it's countless spin off potential on Mr. Devore, but the author seems to of found his own closure and rode this train as far as he is willing to take it.
This book was a train ride, from bullet speed to scenic curves, dips and climbs, and boring layovers at times, with truth being the ultimate destination at the end of the line. However in this case, it becomes apparent to the author that it's best to get off the train before it reaches it's destination, no matter how badly one wants to stay onboard and see it - A subtle reminder and fact of life that is not lost in translation by the reader, regardless of what conclusion one chooses to make.
More to the point how do you investigate something half a world away when your own life is anything but stable.?
When a man is watching his world change irrevocably what should he focus on?
Politics,world events,spy games,murder,the deep state?
This book has all of that with some show business thrown in for good measure.
I rarely ever see myself in any book characters but I saw my young self in the person who began searching for the truth of things and my older self in the more settled man who knows sometimes the water is too deep and dark for one man to make a difference..
Poets and philosophers might wax and wane over how just one person can make a difference but sometimes the biggest difference you can make is to tell the world the truth of what you know and then continue to live your life.
This was wonderful and I am really looking forward to reading more of Matthew Alford's work.