Thursday, February 21, 2008

Justice Riders by Chuck Norris (and others...)

I’m in two minds about movie star Chuck Norris’ first western novel, the stirring Civil War adventure Justice Riders.

On one hand, the book is clearly a cynical ploy to cash in on Chuck Norris’ enormous popularity. It’s an easy-to-read western featuring a main character clearly modeled on Norris himself (so much so that he performs Norris’ signature ‘roundhouse kick’ as early as page twelve.)

For that reason, it’s easy to dismiss Justice Riders as being designed to attract sales through celebrity rather than quality.

But on the other hand, Justice Riders is an efficiently produced product that will prove very satisfying to a specific target audience. If you like Chuck Norris, you’re interested in the history of the Old West and you’re not expecting great art or literature, Justice Riders delivers everything you expect. Perhaps even more. Book snob or not, you can’t really argue with a novel that accomplishes everything it sets out to do.

Riders. For Justice.

Although the cover credits Norris most prominently, four authors contributed to Justice Riders, including Chuck Norris’ brother, Aaron. This probably explains the ‘set up’ of the book, which reads like it was decided by committee.

The titular ‘Chuck Norris’ character, Captain Ezra Justice, is a celebrated war hero given a top-secret mission by the Union Army during the last year of the American Civil War.

He recruits an elite team to sabotage Confederate efforts behind enemy lines. His politically-correct smorgus board of recruits include a lovable Irish rogue, a cunning British sniper, twin gypsy explosive experts, a noble Native American and, of course, Ezra’s childhood friend – a slave freed from his parent’s plantation.

Their adventures take them across the clearly well-researched backdrop of the post Civil-War south – interacting with real historical figures and experiencing notable events, culminating with Captain Ezra Justice and his ‘Justice Riders’ getting themselves mixed up in the real-life sinking of the steamship Sultana – a tragic riverboat disaster that claimed the lives of 1,700 passengers.

Their adventure climaxes with a classic western showdown, as Justice and his men face off against the moustache-twirling Mordacai Slate and his rebel Confederate platoon The Death Raiders.

It’s entertaining stuff, although the writing is pretty unpolished. One fault that really jars is a complete lack of contractions, even in the dialogue. “I do not like him” characters would say, instead of “I don’t like him.” It makes some of the writing seem very stilted and the dialogue pretty unrealistic.

Also, most of the characters are given interesting back stories, but they’re quite roughly shoehorned in between paragraphs of the current action, making it all a bit disjointed.

The plot, characterization and description are all satisfactory, but it’s pretty clear that the publishers printed a very early draft of the story instead of polishing and tightening the manuscript. A celebrity name on the cover was apparently more important than editing.

What shines is the research. The war-torn south our heroes trek through is utterly believable and while Ezra Justice is merely an observer and victim of the tragic Sultana disaster, it’s fascinating to learn about the greed, graft and dishonesty that led to so many people tragically loosing their lives.

All in all, I’m left with the impression that Justice Riders is an unfinished book. The authors are perfectly competent and able writers – but it’s clear that any author lacking the celebrity clout of Chuck Norris would have received a rejection letter for submitting this rough-and-ready manuscript, instead of a publishing contract.

However, all the raw ingredients needed for a solid novel are there and if you’re willing to overlook the finer details, Justice Riders proves to be an enjoyable and educational page-turner.

Justice Riders by Chuck Norris, Ken Abraham, Aaron Norris and Tim Grayem is published by Broadman and Holman Publishers and retails for $15.99.


Anonymous said...

How hot is Chuck Norris, man. damn, he's still got it.

Hope you have a great weekend, Roland!

Katie at CuppaJoe

Kingfisher241049 said...

I think Chuck should hire you as a publicist, you clearly have the knack of selling. :) If I had his email address I would arrange it for you lol. Nice piece of writing and critiquing. :)