Book Review: Tanner’s Twelve Swingers by Lawrence Block

Title:Tanner’s Twelve Swingers

Author: Lawrence Block

Format: Paperback edition by Jove Books

Published: 1985


Lawrence Block is a name of legend, at least for a guy like me who reads mysteries and the like voraciously.  Matt Scudder, Block’s possibly best known Private Detective character, ranks in the top ten of best fictional PIs of all time.  I have only recently, however, discovered another one of Block’s fantastic characters- Evan Michael Tanner, quite literally the most unlikely and accidental spy probably ever created in fiction.

Unable to actually sleep due to a rather strange physical condition, Evan Michael Tanner is a man of many unique attributes and distinct interests, one of the most prominent being that he is a fan and oftentimes supporter of lost causes around the world, the more obscure the better.  He is also a voracious reader, a man who, spongelike, absorbs information wherever he can.  In Tanner’s Twelve Swingers, Tanner promises an acquaintance of his, one he has made association with through one of his various lost causes, that he will retrieve the man’s one true love.  From the Soviet Union. Himself. And that he will bring her back to the United States.

Although Tanner continually regrets this commitment, he tries to be a man of his word always, so he undertakes the mission. The path he has to travel isn’t strange to him, as he has been in that part of the world, even responsible for a small rebellion in a country over there in his first adventure.  What occurs along the way, however, is that Tanner ends up not only having to deal with his friend’s lover, but her sister, as well as the ten other members of the gymnastics team the girls are a part of.  Oh, and then there’s an old gentleman who tags along wanting to defect and a young girl, who Tanner liberates from being held prisoner by her subjects.  Why? Because they are convinced she is the heir to the throne of Lithuania and want to hold her prisoner until the right time to return her to power.  She’s six by the way.

Tanner’s Twelve Swingers is definitely a raucous, fun ride.  The situations that Block puts Tanner in are definitely crafted only for someone of Tanner’s rather singular being to survive and to do so with such aplomb that other mostly positive things happen as a result of him not dying.  This being Block, the voice of the novel is solid and consistent and moves along at a decent pace.

My issues with this book, though, have to do with having read the first Tanner adventure before this one, the third in the series.  In The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep, Block wrote Tanner as a rather interesting conundrum of a man, one who somehow stumbled into situations accidentally, then rode victoriously out of them.  The Tanner in Tanner’s Twelve Swingers doesn’t really seem to be that particular version until nearly the end of the book.  This Tanner seems easily frustrated and constantly considering walking away from the duty he has undertaken. And although the curmudgeonly aspects of Tanner were almost charming in the first book, they get in the way in Tanner’s Twelve Swingers of appreciating the character, almost like some of the moments move too quickly, not enough time being taken to let Tanner shine.

Tanner’s Twelve Swingers rates a good four out of five pages. Even with the less than likable version of the character showing up this time around, it is still a rollicking and exciting time, one replete with neat little character moments.

By my standard, Tanner’s Twelve Swingers is definitely five out of six bullets, the sights only being off slightly where the lead is concerned.

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