Even with gentrification, yuppiedom and Californication, there are still some unusual people who call Santa Fe home. Some are certified geniuses, some are certified nuts and some fall in between. But I don’t believe any of the residents of the City Different is quite as much of a rare bird as Kent Anderson, who may be unique not only to Santa Fe but to the world of literature.
Anderson’s third novel, “Green Sun,” was recently published by Mulholland Books/Little Brown and Co.
Like his previous two books, “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Night Dogs,” its protagonist is a man named Hanson (his first name is almost never used), who has been described as a social worker with a gun. “Green Sun” is a detective story and a police procedural, but its hero is a U.S. Special Forces veteran of the Vietnam War and a former Portland, Ore., cop who goes to work for the Oakland, Calif., police department.
It is not entirely coincidental that Anderson himself is a U.S. Special Forces veteran of the Vietnam War and a former cop in both Portland and Oakland. In fact he is probably the only person in history ever to win two bronze stars for heroism in combat and two National Endowment for the Arts grants for writing.
Anderson was also a seaman in the Merchant Marine, an assistant English professor at the University of Texas in El Paso and at Boise State University in Idaho, and a Hollywood script writer working with John Milius at New Line Cinema.
Six years ago author Anderson was involved in a real-life violent episode in Santa Fe that could have been a chapter in “Green Sun.”
According to a report in the Santa Fe New Mexican published 10 months later, a Santa Fe man crashed into Anderson’s car, which was parked on a dead-end street near his house. The driver then sped away to drop off a passenger before turning around.
Anderson, who was then 67 years old, came out to see what the crash was about. He fetched a Glock 26 pistol loaded with hollow-point bullets from his car and stuck it in his hip pocket. Standing in the middle of the road to block the other guy’s truck, he demanded that the driver stop and get out. But after the driver did so, he attacked Anderson.
According to the police report, the driver pulled a black folding knife, grabbed Anderson by the back of the head and jabbed the knife in his mouth, cutting him from the corner of his lips halfway up his cheek.
Anderson then pulled out his Glock and shot the man in the abdomen. The man was hospitalized for two months before being sent to a rehab clinic. Anderson needed 20 stitches to repair the damage to his mouth.
Then just as in Anderson’s novel, there is a hint of mystery: no charges were filed, the final police report could not be found and the disposition of the case could not be determined. There is also a suggestion of misdirection. The New Mexican quoted Anderson’s attorney, John Day, as saying:
“They have been extraordinarily closed-mouth about it. Initially, it was odd because they were threatening Kent for defending himself. … They were saying, ‘We’re going to come after you. You’re going to be a target.’ The message they were sending basically is that you should not have defended yourself against a violent attacker, and that’s just absurd.”
“Green Sun” is much like Anderson’s life: violent, episodic, discontinuous and complex. Some of the most intriguing sections deal not with the crimes in which he is enmeshed but his understanding of what police do right and wrong. His attitude toward the police is critical. He finds corruption endemic and near universal. But he primarily faults dumb policies of supervisors and politicians, such as inadequate budgets and moving cops to different beats so often that they never get to know the neighborhoods.
Anderson is actually more interested as a writer in civilians than cops. These people—mostly poor and mostly black—are often violent, even vicious; but Anderson leaves no doubt where his sympathies lie. He faults the hopelessness of the ghetto more often than the maliciousness of individuals for their criminality.
The hero’s goal is to leave big city policing, where he feels powerless, for a small town, where he can do some good, and when he finally does so, it can be read as a happy ending.
The weakness of this book is that, like a TV series, it consists of crime episodes with little in the way of character development. While we find out more about the hero and the people he interacts with as the novel progresses, no one changes and the plot remains pretty much stagnant. But the greatest strength of this book is fine writing combined with psychological insight. Near the end of the novel Anderson climbs into the head of Officer Hanson:
“Looking into his rearview mirror, he saw that he could turn around in the street—if he did it right now—and drive back into his past, stopping wherever he wished to begin his life again from there. But he didn’t know what he’d do differently, he hadn’t made any notes to himself on what he’d done wrong the first time, so he drove on into East Oakland, the familiar street crossing and intersecting, the future continuing to invent itself up ahead.”
One wonders what an author who has so often reinvented himself—sailer, soldier, cop, professor, scriptwriter, novelist—will find at the next intersection.