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RUN By Douglas E. Winter (Alfred A. Knopf; 259 pages; $23) Burdon Lane, the hard-boiled narrator hero or, more accurately, anti-hero of D.C. lawyer Douglas E. Winter’s debut novel, “Run,” sure knows his firearms. Pistols, rifles, shotguns, automatics, and semi-automatics. Twenty-twos, .38s, .45s, .223s, and .557s. TEC-9s, MAC-10s, Glock 19s, and Beretta 80s. Colt Python 357s, Springfield 1911A1s, Heckler & Koch MP-5Ks, and Van Doekken Longbores. He can lovingly describe every weapon’s contours, precisely explain their firing mechanisms, and recall from experience their varying degrees of recoil. Guns are not just a hobby to Lane, they’re his business. You see, Lane is executive vice president of UniArms Inc. – at least, that’s what’s printed on his business card. But don’t think that Lane spends all his time behind a desk in corporate headquarters. To all outward appearances, Lane is a legitimate businessman and UniArms a legitimate arms dealer. But in reality, Lane is merely a gunrunning factotum to Jules Berenger, the owner of UniArms, and Berenger and his corporation don’t always play by the rules. Having learned that the real money in arms dealing can be had only by circumventing the law, Berenger has no qualms about doing so. And because both Berenger and his top lieutenant consider Lane a good soldier, willing to apply a little muscle or even firepower when a situation merits it, they include him in their most lucrative and shady dealings. Yet something about his latest assignment doesn’t sit right with Lane. Ordered to accompany a truckload of guns to New York City to exchange for cash, Lane is unsettled to learn that he and his men will be dealing with gangbangers on this run. The shipment of assault weapons is being bought by a New York gang, the 9 Bravos. To protect his investment and help keep these renowned bad actors in line during the deal, Berenger, in exchange for a bit of money laundering, retains the services of an equally notorious D.C. gang to act as a security detail. Thus, Lane is told that members of the U Street Crew will be making the trip north with him. That Lane and the D.C. gang’s putative leader, Jinx, share a mutual dislike when they are introduced does not lessen Lane’s sense of foreboding. In due time, Lane’s reservations about this unwanted job prove well-founded. When things go wrong in the Big Apple, they go spectacularly wrong. Lane’s simple guns-for-money trade spirals out of control into something very different and exceedingly more sinister. But to divulge any more of the plot’s secrets would deprive potential readers of the excitement of having this Winter’s tale unfurl at the author’s pace. “Run” is a stylish thriller, to be sure. Winter’s headlong, streamlined prose carries you briskly from one outrageous plot twist to another. It’s hard not to succumb to “Run’s” breakneck pace and its protagonist narrator’s roughneck charm, and to find yourself suspending your disbelief and plowing ahead unbothered by the relative implausibility of the unfolding events. Winter does not think small. In “Run,” every shootout is an Armageddon and every act of daring is outsized. And yet for a novel that is so often so over the top, “Run” is also a work of some subtlety. Although Burdon Lane can be ruthless — “You should know right now, if you haven’t figured it out yet, that I’m not the good guy,” he admits — he also steadfastly adheres to a personal code of honor and doesn’t make excuses to himself for his behavior. He plainly admits that he has chosen a life on the edge of legitimacy and is willing to face without complaint the consequences that this choice may ultimately bring him. He also believes that little in life is painted in either black or white, and that shades of gray predominate. Consider this lesson he delivers in constitutional history: These Founding Father guys, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, whoever, the guys on the dollar bills, they kick the British guys out and they start themselves a new government. Their own government. So what’s the first thing they do? They make up rules. The Constitution, for starters. That’s a good one: All men are created equal, right? Bullshit then, bullshit now. These guys owned slaves, their women didn’t vote, so who were they kidding? Well, nobody. But since they were the guys who wrote the rules, they wrote them just the way they wanted. A shroud of ambiguity hangs over much of “Run.” Over the course of the book, Dear Law-Abiding Reader, you will probably be aghast to find yourself rooting for the career criminals and gangbangers to defeat law enforcement’s legions, wondering all the while how you allowed your values to be so manipulated and compromised. This speaks favorably for Winter’s skills as a writer. Although his first intent presumably was to construct an entertainment, Winter is able to say some serious things within the context of his novel about a number of important issues. “Run” doesn’t shy away from taking an unsentimental look at the racial divide in the nation’s urban centers. And for a book in which descriptions of weaponry border on the sensual and acts of carnage are portrayed graphically, “Run” nevertheless provides some thoughtful and highly unconventional commentary on violence in America. In fact, “Run” is at times so subversive that you will need to remind yourself that it’s the work of a onetime JAG lawyer who subsequently labored for years in a staid, decorous law firm.

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