Review: Latest Barrington book full of action, grim characters

DOING HARD TIME. By Stuart Woods. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 307 pages. $26.95.

Some like it glib, and if you’re one of them, Stuart Woods is your guy. His heroes are glitz, his villains grim. He doesn’t waste a lot of time creating depth or dimension, just action. He knows what you want is escape, and seems dead set on beating you there.

“Doing Hard Time” is the 53rd novel in his 32-year career so far, the first since he contracted with Putnam to produce four novels per year. All of them are to be logo-ed with his “New York Times best-selling” character Stone Barrington, a cop-turned millionaire lawyer with a taste for luxurious digs, women and jets, in whatever order he pleases.

In a recent Charleston appearance, Woods only half-kidded he’s doing it for the money and more tellingly teased that just because he’s writing a Stone Barrington novel doesn’t mean it has to be about Stone Barrington. “Hard Time” is a Teddy Fay novel, featuring another of Woods’ glitzy action heroes, with Barrington along for the ride, Tonto-style.

The plot involves a Russian mobster out for revenge because Barrington beat him out in a hotel purchase and Fay buried two of his hit men in the desert in their black Lincoln Navigator with (bullet) holes in their heads. Oh yeah, hang tight:

“Vlad’s hat flew off, exposing his white hair, and he felt the passing of another bullet. He stomped on the accelerator and gained half a length on the SUV, then he yanked the wheel to the left, forcing the other vehicle into oncoming traffic, where it collided with a delivery truck and stopped. Vlad then got around two other cars and was only one behind the other SUV.”

Woods flies his own Cessna to appearances and wore a dapper coat pocket kerchief for the Charleston visit.

Teddy “knew (the airplane) was a late-model Piper Malibu Mirage that had been converted to a turboprop with the installation of a Pratt & Whitney jet engine turning a propeller.”

Stone lives in a house he remodeled that “now contained a duplex flat for guests and three other apartments, into which he had moved his secretary, Helen, and his newly acquired houseman or butler, Frederick Flicker, known as Fred. Stone had received a year of Fred’s services as a gift from his Parisian friend ...” Get the drift?

With Woods, you’re not in for much metaphorical musing, scenery chewing or character arc. You’re in for action.

“Doing Hard Time” opens with Teddy getting a look he doesn’t like from a deputy sheriff in a grocery store.

Three pages later, he has wiped clean his North Carolina mountain house, gutted his created identity for a new one and flown off in the dark without notifying air traffic control and with no real destination in mind.

It says a lot about Woods’ facile style that “Doing Hard Time” refers not to prison but to Hollywood. While in Charleston, the author said he writes a chapter a day, every day. So four books per year isn’t pushing him much. He can do action.

Reviewer Bo Petersen is a reporter for The Post and Courier.

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