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Black Sunday ()

Football has become America's most popular sport without anyone ever liking it and no one loving it. Indeed, the literature, such as it is, of the sport can be best characterized as hostile--think North Dallas Forty and Friday Night Lights. But no one has ever captured that weird relationship better than Thomas Harris, in his rookie novel, Black Sunday. Buzz Bissinger and Peter Gent wrote passionately about how the game exploits its players. Harris wrote, almost lovingly, about blowing up the Super Bowl and murdering everyone in the stadium.

Michael Lander is your archetypal disturbed Vietnam vet, who returned from the war with all of his childhood psychoses in full bloom, determined to exact a spectacular vengeance on the country and the ex-wife who betrayed him. To that end, he first formulates a brilliant plot to pilot the advertising blimp he captains into the big game and then contacted the PLO to obtain their help in making his dream a reality. Soon the beautiful Black September agent Dahlia Iyad arrives on his doorstep and, after convincing herself that his plan will work and that she can manage him, sends for the explosives that will be required.

Meanwhile, after a raid on a Black September cell reveals that an attack in America is in the works, the Israelis dispatch a crack terrorist hunter, Major David Kabakov, to the States.

As in his later Hannibal Lecter books, Mr. Harris makes the psychotic more interesting than the rest of the characters, to the point where you're not entirely unlikely to be rooting for him and for his elegant scheme to work.

The germ of the story came from brainstorming by three reporters after the Munich Massacre, but it was Mr. Harris who followed through to the novel's conclusion and delivery. Though it shows some of the inevitable defects of a first effort--underwritten characters, plot jumps, clunky dialogue in places, etc.--it succeeds as a thriller and made Mr. Harris a novelist instead of a reporter.

It also provided yours truly a memorable bit. Giants Stadium had notoriously officious security staff, eventually leading to the death of a Grateful Dead concert-goer in the late '80s. In the mid-'70s, when the Cosmos were popular, we used to go to the games and sit amidst various ethnic enclaves where we could root against Giorgio Chinaglia for hogging the ball. Rightly or not, Security developed a concern that fans were going to turn violent and they took to searching your bags on the way into the game. So I packed a baseball mitt and a Bible one time and when the guards questioned me I said the former was to catch a ball if it came into the stands and the latter was in case the Goodyear blimp was coming in low.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Thomas Harris (2 books reviewed)
Thomas Harris Links:

    -AUTHOR PAGE: Thomas Harris (Random House)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Thomas Harris
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Thomas Harris (IMDB)
    -BIO: Thomas Harris (William Streibling, Mississippi Writers Page)
    -BIO: Biography of Thomas Harris (Teal Waterstrat (SHS), Mississippi Writers and Musicians)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Black Sunday by Thomas Harris
    -WIKIPEDIA: Black Sunday
    -PROFILE: Creator of a monstrous hit: The reclusive author's acclaimed novels about the evil Hannibal Lecter have sold in their millions and inspired influential movies. A fourth book on the iconic villain's early days is due soon. But will it spoil the essential mystery? (Jason Cowley, 11/18/06, The Observer)
    -PROFILE: Twilit world of Hannibal's creator: While the fugitive Dr Lecter sips fine wine, his creator Thomas Harris opts out of book parties awash with cheap plonk. Duncan Campbell, 22 May 1999,
    -PROFILE: Eleven-year wait has been worth it for every Harris fan: Writing so vivid you can see the scenes - for £16.99 rather than £60m (Mark Lawson, 8 June 1999,
-REVIEW ESSAY: SUNDAY MORNIN’ COMIN’ DOWN: ON THE 1975 THOMAS HARRIS NOVEL, BLACK SUNDAY, AND ITS UNDERRATED ADAPTATION: The test screenings of Black Sunday enthralled its early viewers, but the film was eclipsed by the release of Star Wars. (DAVID JAMES KEATON, 1/31/23, CrimeReads)
    -ESSAY: Chewing on Hannibal (Dwight Garner, 12/24/06, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: The Cannibal Who Evolved Into a Stereotype (ELVIS MITCHELL, February 19, 2001, NY Times)
-ARCHIVES: Thomas Harris (NY Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVES: Thomas Harris (The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Red Dragon by Thomas Harris (Thomas Fleming, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Red Dragon (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Hannibal by Thomas Harris (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Hannibal (Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Hannibal (John Lanchester, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris (Steven Poole, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Hannibal Rising (Peter Guttridge, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Hannibal Rising (Terrence Rafferty, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Hannibal Rising (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Hannibal Rising (Motoko Rich, NY Times)
    -INFO: Black Sunday (1977) (IMDB)
    -REVIEW: of Black Sunday (Chris Robe, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of Black Sunday (Criminal Element)
    -REVIEW: of Black Sunday (Vincent Canby, NY Times)

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