cover image Wet Work

Wet Work

Christopher Buckley. Alfred A. Knopf, $19.95 (271pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57193-5

In his new novel, Buckley ( The White House Mess ) seems undecided whether to write a new comic caper or go for the action crowd, so he rather uneasily combines elements of both genres. Charley Becker, a self-made billionaire, dedicates himself to wreaking vengeance on the drug lords when his favorite granddaughter overdoses on cocaine. With a faithful collection of sidekicks, including a former New York cop and a trio of former Special Services agents called Bundy, McNamara and Rostow, he follows the cocaine trail from New York City's Lower East Side to Miami to Peru. There, in a climactic shootout involving his luxury yacht on the Amazon and an art-loving druglord, he is finally rescued by an agent from the DEA. All this Rambo-like derring-do, involving what is probably satirical use of high-tech gadgetry, is swiftly and skillfully handled but not very persuasive, as if Buckley's mind is elsewhere. And in fact it is the comic aspects of the plot that work best: a recurring joke about absolution, some magnificently befuddled and evasive Washington conversations about military and diplomatic ramifications. Buckley remains at heart a satirist and in that role is welcome; plenty of writers can do the action stuff better. Film rights to Paramount Pictures. (Feb.)