Author: William Goldman
Publication Date: 1974
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Blurb (GR): Tom "Babe" Levy is a runner in every sense: racing tirelessly toward his goals of athletic and academic excellence--and endlessly away from the specter of his famous father's scandal-driven suicide. But an unexpected visit from his beloved older brother will set in motion a chain of events that plunge Babe into a vortex of terror, treachery, and murder--and force him into a race for his life . . . and for the answer to the fateful question, "Is it safe?"
Review: I honestly had no clue what Marathon Man was about before I started reading it. I started a book club when I moved to Seattle a year ago and each month we pick a new genre and roll with it. We picked thriller/suspense for January and then looked to see what the mostly highly shelved and rated books in the genre were and added a few to our poll. This won so I acquired it and jumped in. I think it made it quite a bit more fun having no clue what the story was about or where it was going (I haven’t seen the movie) so I’ll try not to ruin anything in this review. Marathon Man opens with two angry old men in a road rage situation in New York City which results in a string of events involving Nazis, espionage, and a Jewish grad student who runs marathons. It is basically an adrenaline-fueled rush all the way to the ending.
Babe Levy, the aforementioned grad student, has the uncanny ability to remember historical facts, just like his father before him. The father whose life and career were ruined by McCarthyism. Babe’s only family is his brother Doc, whom Babe resents a bit for doing corporate work of a sort and collecting hoity-toity interests. After Babe begins dating a German student and writes to Doc about his feelings, his brother shows up at his apartment and Babe finds out that several things are not as they seem. And that is about as far into the plot as I can go without spoiling it all.
I had rather high expectations going into this book because it was written by William Goldman, of The Princess Bride fame. I’d hoped that he could write a thriller with the same humor he injected into both that book and the movie screenplay based on it. Was there humor? Not really, but he certainly knows how to keep the reader intrigued and there are several scenes I won’t soon forget. Something that might be a positive for readers is that the pacing roars along, allowing readers to frantically flip pages until they’ve finished the book in one sitting. However, I thought the characterization lacked a bit because of it. There are several German characters I kept confusing with each other and they, along with a few other characters, left me practically begging for more of the backstory. It reminded me of the characters in Jasper Fforde’s BookWorld who try to invent interesting tidbits about themselves to interject into their acting. Character 1: generally evil henchman, German, broad-shouldered. I found it perplexing, though, that some complete randomness was interjected instead of helpful characterization—did we really need to know about so-and-so’s favorite Argentinian laundress?
I will say that Goldman knows how to write torture, death, and chase scenes which really covers all the bases in a thriller. And I liked the seventies feel to it. Thrillers are more interesting to me when they aren’t utilizing the newest technology and people have to base their life and death prospects on skill and luck rather than their knowledge of advanced weaponry. Plus, who doesn't love reading about assassins going after assassins?
Now that I’ve read the book, I can’t wait to see the movie, which stars Dustin Hoffman as Babe Levy. I want to see if the film captures the anxiety I felt during the dentist scene, the point when Levy finds out about the double-crosser, the bank escape scene, and the ending. (these are pretty general, non-spoiler mentions. If you think I should spoiler them, let me know)