Volume 15, Number 02, Spring, 1997

Deep as the Marrow

By F. Paul Wilson

(Forge, 1997, $24.95, 352pp, hc).
Cover by Robert Santora.
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
January 1997

Imagine one of the greatest controversies today in America: drugs. Now, imagine a well-known, highly respected writer, a best-seller like F. Paul Wilson writing a novel that holds as its main premise someone who wants to legalize drugs. What if this person was the President of the USA himself? A premise that would take the breath away from any person. A novel that might be a little interesting.

Wilson’s latest novel, Deep as the Marrow, is all this and more. To handle the premise of legalizing drugs as a work of fiction demands superb skill and strength of ideas, and, even more importantly, characters and a strong plot to hold it all together. Instead of looking at just the idea of drug legalization, Wilson focuses instead on the complex motives and actions of his characters. These elements, not mere politics, drive the book from the very first sentence to its ultimate conclusion.

Boiled down to the essentials, America wakes up one morning to the announcement that US President Tom Winston wants to legalize drugs. He immediately becomes the target of every group in America, left and right. With the Secret Service on full alert, his enemies can’t get to him directly. But they can get to his trusted friend and personal doctor, John VanDuyne. Somebody kidnaps his six-year old daughter, Katie. The ransom? Merely a small task. VanDuyne must kill the president before he attends a drug summit at the Hague, or his daughter dies.

Deep as the Marrow is about the bonds that form between adult and child. This is a bond even those of us without children of our own can feel. It transcends even fear and self-preservation.

The main kidnapper, who goes by the moniker Snake, farms out the duty of watching Katie to Pauli and Poppy, a gen-x couple living on the edge, but trying to stabilize themselves. Poppy Mulliner, Wilson’s most compelling character since Repairman Jack, is even trying to rise out of her current dead-end life, and bring Paulie with her.

The master puppeteer behind the kidnapping won’t really surprise libertarians with a knowledge of basic economics: sophisticated Colombian drug dealers who stand to loose a lot of money if drugs are legal again. Other foes aren’t as obvious, but play major roles. Events spin out of control when the minders clash with Snake, and from then on, we’ve got a runaway train.

In a recent interview with Barnes & Noble (reprinted in its America Online forum), Wilson admits he was nervous about writing a novel dealing with legalizing drugs. Wilson, after all, is a medical doctor, and quite aware that drugs are, as he puts it, “poison.” But more important to Wilson is his belief individual rights. If anyone ever doubted the sincerity of his belief, this novel proves them wrong. It takes courage and daring to write a novel like Deep as the Marrow.

Convictions don’t really matter if they don’t make sense. While researching the novel, Wilson discovered the staggering facts that “we as a nation spend sixty billion…dollars a year trying to keep our fellow Americans (land of the free and all that) from getting high. And what’s the result? You can buy pot, heroin, coke, PCP, whatever you want in every city and town across the nation.” Money, argues Wilson, that could be better spend on education. A recent ABC program showed that when parents talked to their kids about drugs, drug use among these kids went down, or did not even begin.

All this said, Wilson’s views or any facts he present would not sustain any novel beyond the first page. It’s his almost magical ability to present characters which step into the reader’s mind as more than real, that drives this book. Deep as the Marrow may well be one his best novels ever. The book will set your heart pounding faster than a Wes Craven movie, and the ending is shocking; I already want to read it again.

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