Retro review–Nothing Lasts Forever, the novel that became Die Hard


Review by C.J. Bunce

After five Die Hard movies it’s nearly impossible to separate the role of John McClane from the actor Bruce Willis.  But before John McClane there was Joe Leland, the name of the protagonist in Roderick Thorp’s very James Bond-sounding 1979 novel, Nothing Lasts Forever, which was adapted into the original Die Hard movie.  It’s back in print for the first time in 20 years to celebrate its 25th anniversary, to coincide with the theatrical release of A Good Day to Die Hard.

Joe Leland.  Former cop.  Die Hard changed some components of the story from the novel but none of it changed the spirit of the cop who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Instead of his wife Gennaro it is Joe’s daughter Stephanie and her two kids who become hostages when terrorists take over a Christmas Eve company party full of employees celebrating a big business deal. Instead of the high-rise Nakatomi building from Die Hard it’s the Klaxon Oil building in Los Angeles.  And the villain who would be played by Alan Rickman was Anton Gruber instead of Hans Gruber.

Nothing Lasts Forever original 1979 edition

Leland has killed a few of the bad guys including one of the terrorist’s brother and a woman.  He has their detonators, one of their walkie talkies, and amasses a pile of weapons: a Thompson machine gun, a Browning, and a Kalashnikov.  He throws a body off the roof to get noticed. He manages to get the police on the phone.  Gruber is killing hostages.  And Joe can’t let Gruber know that his daughter is one of his hostages or she’s as good as dead.  And Joe is barefoot.  Then he gets shot in the leg struggling to kill another woman terrorist.

And the inevitable happens and the bad guys learn Joe’s secret.  “That’s right, Mr. Leland,” Gruber says.  “Your daughter wishes to speak to you.”

Barefoot John McClane

Quick thinking under pressure.  Making friends via radio outside the Klaxon Oil building and using conversations and the press to trick the terrorists.  Cocky only because he is tough enough, smart enough, and has enough experience to justify it.  Joe Leland is no James Bond–Joe is rough and dirty and bloody in his fight for survival, a very American action hero.

We only get to see what is happening from Joe’s perspective so you never know what is around the next corner–you find out what is going to happen when Joe does.  And we get to know what makes Joe tick.  Enough is different from the movie that readers will find the excitement in the novel never lets up and nothing is predictable.  Full of fun characters movie-watchers will have had glimpses of in the film as well as “new” characters–Nothing Lasts Forever is a great, action-packed read.

It’s also interesting how much we see of McClane in Bruce Willis as an actor. Audiences probably thought all along that Die Hard was just a Bruce Willis movie–after all Willis had his cool, action hero, everyman schtick down pretty well with his TV series Moonlighting.  But how much of Willis’s persona was actually created by Roderick Thorp?  More than you might think.

The Detective

The newly released edition of Nothing Lasts Forever includes the original novel at 173 pages with a bonus, Roderick Thorp’s original story treatment for the novel, uncovered from Mr. Thorp’s estate.  Thorp (1936-1999), also wrote the 1966 novel The Detective, which was made into a movie of the same name starring Frank Sinatra.  The cool thing? Nothing Lasts Forever is the sequel to The DetectiveThat’s right.  Before the character that would become John McClane was played Bruce Willis, he was played by the Chairman of the Board himself, Ol’ Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra.  Can you imagine him running around the building, bloody and barefoot with a machine gun shouting “Yippee-ki-yay?”  Maybe.

Frank Sinatra - The original John McClane

Nothing Lasts Forever is now available in bookstores and from  A boxed set of the first four Die Hard movies is also now available for the 25th anniversary of the franchise.  For more Die Hard-related reads check out our previous review here at of Howard Chaykin’s graphic novel, Die Hard: Year One.

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