Make sure you have your seatbelt fastened and tray table in its upright and locked position before embarking on First Contract. It launches you straight into the mayhem and like its protagonist, JJ Stoner, takes no prisoners. Not that the action is non-stop, far from it. It has clever dialogue and plenty of descriptive narrative providing context for the violence, depth to the characters and shape to the story.
Author Frank Westworth’s dry wit and social and political insight punctuate the story and inform the increasingly entertained reader as the characters and story develop. All in all, an excellent and enjoyable start to the series. If only it was not quite so short… fortunately there is more to come with First Contract’ just a taster, setting the stage for ‘Last Act of Charity’. Coming out in print this September, Last Act can be ordered now and I for one can hardly wait.
Review by Martin P
I have never been a fan of the ‘back story’ genre. There, I’ve said it aloud. I’m the one sighing when a favourite character’s writer (TV, book, film) delves into navel gazing exposition, and reveals a character’s inner torment / trauma / whathaveyou / etc as either ‘colour’ or a lazy means of escape from a particularly tortuous plot arc. If I want those kind of details, I can make them up myself.
And then along comes First Contract by Frank Westworth. Ostensibly the back story of a killer for (government) hire. A first intriguing glimpse of JJ Stoner segueing from professional world weary soldier of the Crown into hitman for one of the funny people – the Hard Man.
But this is less back story fiction, and more a cool, appraising flow of relentless prose opening up a matter of fact world, and a matter of fact man. A shadowy half existence where death is a necessary transaction, and mistakes do happen.
The narrative unfolds before you describing (often graphically – and to do less would denigrate the necessary grim reality of a soldier’s primary function – to kill when it is required) the episodes, the incidents, leading one man to his latest occupation.
Westworth’s fiction does not judge JJ Stoner. It does not seek to explain him, or make you want to sympathise – or empathise – with the man. It simply, fluidly, outlines him, states what he does, in stark, vivid language that draws you inexorably deeper, page by page, into a world that does parallel so called ‘civilised’ society, but that happens on the periphery of our collective vision.
We conveniently forget that men like JJ Stoner exist, or that that existence is demanded by society under the umbrella call to keep us safe. Does JJ Stoner have his own demons? Probably. Don’t we all. Yet refreshingly, in this first introduction, we see none of them (unless playing guitar and riding motorcycles counts in the demonic hierarchy). JJ Stoner is sketchily, yet elegantly drawn in this short story. There is nothing flowery or unnecessary in Westworth’s precise prose. Each sentence is purposeful, targeted.
My order is in for the September release of ‘A Last Act of Charity’. And I’m still not a fan of back stories…
Review by Julieanna
A new series of thrilling crime novels is always exciting. But the problem can be that the author (and reader) wants to launch straight into the action from page 1. That, of course, makes it more of a challenge to establish the backstory, let alone motivation, for the main protagonist. Frank Westworth has adopted an interesting approach to the problem, by writing this short story that moves the ‘hero’ (?) JJ Stoner from his long career in the army to his new ‘job’ (which I won’t elaborate so as not to introduce spoilers!)
But this isn’t just a backstory for fans of the series (in fact the first book in the series isn’t published until September), it is a perfectly good story in its own right, and successfully whets the appetite for the series itself (which was presumably Mr Westworth’s intention). If you like intelligent dialogue, classic motorbikes and mysterious women (or intelligent women, classic dialogue, mysterious motorbikes, or … you get the picture) albeit interspersed with violence (never gratuitous but definitely not saccharine), then you’ll undoubtedly like this – and what’s more you’ll be counting the days until the first novel is available.
Review by PR Pope
A quick ride into his world, a brief encounter with the Hard Man and the Killing Sisters, and I’m already looking forward to reading the full-length novels by Frank Westworth.
“Stoner planted the muzzle of the black SIG Sauer beneath the guard’s heroic multiple chin and fired the second of its shells upward and through the cranial cavity, a space usually occupied by a brain, although in the case of the guard that was a theoretical occupation rather than a proven fact.”
That is pure hard-boiled and of great quality indeed!
I strongly believe that our Stoner antihero is definitely going to give the readers a hell of a surprise.
Review by Virginia
First Contract: the first JJ Stoner short story by Frank Westworth is available from Amazon