"The Seekers: A Bounty Hunter's Story" by Joshua Armstrong

A boastful, badass manhunter reveals the secrets of his craft.

By Virginia Vitzthum
Published August 8, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

"The Seekers: A Bounty Hunter's Story" has already been optioned by 20th Century Fox. Wesley Snipes is said to be considering the lead, drawn most likely to all the cool stuff in this autobiography of the nation's most successful bounty hunter -- the tasers and Dazers and night-vision headgear and Blammo Ammo rubber bullets. Snipes would kick ass as Joshua Armstrong, the stalking, boxing, kung fu fighting action figure, leading his gang of Seekers as they bring back the bad guys.

Armstrong himself, however, would probably opt for a more "spiritual" actor for the part -- Morgan Freeman, say, or Samuel L. Jackson. Because like Shaft undergoing est training or a black Billy Jack, Armstrong would rather teach than fight. He takes way too many opportunities in his autobiography to spread his hazy gospel of physical asceticism, Eastern "thought" and glowing self-regard.

Armstrong's bounty-hunting disciples/employees take secret Seeker names -- Jedidiah, Rock, Job, Jeremiah, Solomon and Zora -- and follow a regimen of weight lifting, boxing, jujitsu and weapons training. Seekers must complete a seven-book reading list, including Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" and several "works of ancient Egyptian philosophy" by someone named John Baines. The latter phrase appears pointlessly over and over, but my favorite is this hollow gem: "I take an ancient Egyptian approach to my work based on my study of ancient Egyptian philosophy."

The Seekers boast a remarkable 85 percent success rate, much higher than that of the police, the FBI or the U.S. Marshals Service. Maybe some credit belongs to their ninja shenanigans (the Seekers are quite fit), but patience combined with unlimited time and money usually seems to land the perp. Armstrong and his posse will spend days watching an apartment that may house someone with information, and they're always loosening derelicts' tongues with rolls of $20 bills.

Like most bounty hunters, the Seekers charge their bail bondsman clients 10 percent of the outstanding bail for in-state fugitives, 20 percent for out-of-state. Many details of the job are interesting -- staying invisible on a stakeout, tricking the perp's friends into talking, manipulating families to turn their black sheep over.

Among the fun fugitive tidbits: More criminals are nabbed on Christmas, Thanksgiving and Mother's Day than on any other days -- they can't resist visiting their moms. It's best to capture bail jumpers very early, when they're unarmed and in deep sleep. Federal agents (or bounty hunters if they've gotten permission) can transport prisoners on commercial flights if they drape a jacket over the handcuffs and sit in the very back row.

But Armstrong can't just give us the skinny on his work; he has to march out his code of manliness like some G.I. Joe he can't stop playing with. Even worse than the priggish lectures against unmarried sex and watching TV and eating meat is the soft-boiled writing: ugly, thick sentences oozing self-congratulation and unnecessary clauses. Has anyone ever etched a stakeout with duller quill? "As mellow jazz from the tape player filled the space inside my vehicle, I witnessed the street changes as they unfolded." Or been more clunky on a junkie? "When drugs become a person's god, that deity is demanding."

The bounty-hunting tales end anticlimactically, and all have the same moral: Armstrong doesn't need to shoot anyone because he is more "evolved" than most men. In fact, Armstrong was put on earth to inspire other men. At book's end, he reveals that he is plowing his bounty into his own start-up religion, Earth Church. He's positioned to do this, he explains, because "I constantly explore the raw vibe of reality, always pondering my next evolutionary process." The man is tough. I get a headache pondering him pondering his "evolutionary process," and that constant sliding around on the raw vibe -- ouch! That's got to chafe.

Virginia Vitzthum

Virginia Vitzthum is a writer living in New York.

MORE FROM Virginia Vitzthum

Related Topics ------------------------------------------