This bestseller was the basis for the blockbuster film “Die Hard” starring Bruce Willis.
High atop a Los Angeles skyscraper, an office Christmas party turns into a deadly cage-match between a lone New York City cop and a gang of international terrorists. Every action fan knows it could only be the explosive big-screen blockbuster Die Hard. But before Bruce Willis blew away audiences as unstoppable hero John McClane, author Roderick Thorp knocked out thriller readers with the bestseller that started it all.
A dozen heavily armed terrorists have taken hostages, issued demands, and promised bloodshed all according to plan. But they haven’t counted on a death-defying, one-man cavalry with no shoes, no backup, and no intention of going down easily. As hot-headed cops swarm outside, and cold-blooded killers wield machine guns and rocket launchers inside, the stage is set for the ultimate showdown between anti-hero and uber-villains. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good fight to the death. Ho ho ho!
I grew up watching action films with my Dad just as I grew up reading Harlequin novels with my Mum. Until I got older and broke out of the predetermined genre preferences, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Mel Gibson—before his descend to cray cray—were my childhood. Die Hard is one of those films I knew by heart and that has stood the test of time better than most. So, when I saw that the book that had inspired Die Hard was available on NetGalley I had to jump on it.
Nothing Lasts Forever was first published in 1979. Die Hard came out in 1988. The book focuses on Joseph Leland, a World War II veteran, retired cop, private detective, terrorism expert, and a security consultant, who just gave up flying his own place seven years earlier. Leland is divorced, widowed, and a grandfather of two. He never liked his son-in-law but has patched up his relationship with his daughter after he stopped drinking and is on his way to see her now. John McClane is a youngish married cop from New York on his way to see his estranged wife and two children for the Christmas. And he just happens to be afraid of flying. Both land in L.A., get a limo drive to a high rise and are in the middle of a phonecall when the shooting starts.
As I said, I knew the story going in. There wasn’t a slightest chance that Thorp might surprise me with a plot twist, brutality, or gore. What surprised me was how Thorp filled the pages between the action scenes. Where Bruce Willis fills the solitary scenes with muttering and talking to himself, Leland in the book recounts his personal history. He reminiscences the war as he maps out the empty floors between 32nd and 40th. He laments over his failed marriage, his slightly skewed priorities in life, and friends he’s lost in the war and since the war. And there’s no question of which war he’s talking about. These passages could have easily been mind-numbingly boring but they’re not. They give Leland the room to think and the reader the feeling of time passing. And unlike John McClane, Leland is markedly in pain. He’s weary, tired and struggling each step of the way.
For all the details that the filmmakers changed—characters, relationships, making the company a Japanese conglomerate instead of an American oil company called Klaxxon (I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in)—I was more surprised to see the things that they didn’t change. From bare feet to the safe full of money, from the people thrown out the building to the explosions aside from snapped necks and led poisonings, it’s all there.
This book really is the bare bones of the film.
The film improved on the pacing and mixed some things up, like the bazooka attack happening much earlier in the film than in the book, but it also took a few steps in the wrong direction. Die Hard is a sexist creation and I’m not just talking about the unnecessary scene with a bare-chested woman or the titty pictures plastered on a service tunnel wall. I’m talking about female terrorists. The book has several, the film has none.
The motives and over all causality in the book is much more complex than it is in the film. Aside from the brothers, what motivates the terrorists and Hans Gruber especially is pure greed where as in the book Little Tony the Red has ideological objections to Klaxxon’s dealings in Chile. As the book focuses on Leland alone, it’s natural that the film adds to the character gallery—all additions men—and deepens a characterisation or two, but I would argue that what Al Powell does in the end of the book is far more complicated than any sob story told over the radio could ever be—and possibly worth an essay of its own.
For all their similarities Die Hard and Nothing Lasts Forever are two different creations that work well in their own mediums despite their flaws.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.