The third JJ Stoner quick thriller mixes matter-of-fact violence, brooding humour and the kind of wry, witty dialogue you normally associate with American hard-boiled noir. It helps to have read the first couple of short stories in the sequence, although the events which take place in Third Person don’t require much of an introduction. As with the earlier stories (and the full-length novel, ‘A Last Act Of Charity’), you can’t take anything for granted and it pays to read between the lines.
Stoner is between assignments, it seems, meeting a covert contact in Ireland. The story is set a decade or maybe a dozen years ago, at a time when Stoner’s privately-contracted wetwork takes him to the Emerald Isle fairly frequently… although, knowing Stoner, he could just be in town to play a blues gig. Or on a promise. In any case, he ends up with a gaggle of bad boys on his tail, a bug on his motorbike and a minor mystery to resolve.
There’s not a lot of hesitation or deviation in this younger, less world-weary version of Stoner. He does unto others before they get a chance and he uses whatever implements fall readily to hand with no-nonsense pragmatism. He’s certainly not the sort to suffer fools at all, and he barely tolerates ill-considered questions from the few people who count themselves as his friends. To his opponents, Stoner is simply an immovable object and an irresistible force combined. To his friends, he’s more mysterious; a man who ‘wears his hormones on his sleeve’ with an almost binary approach to other people – he either wants to fight you or… you know, the other thing.
This story is unusual in the way it’s told, and it gives us some insight into how Stoner appears to other people. The author obviously enjoyed playing with a different perspective to keep the reader guessing. Like the other tales in the series, Third Person hints at a much bigger picture, at a huge chessboard and at pieces being moved on the far side of our horizon. We (and Stoner) have no idea what machinations are actually at work or what the ramifications of an altercation in a dark alley might be – and such is the nature of these tales that we get to watch while he figures it out and makes his move.
This is a small story, a snapshot encounter. It’s another window into Stoner’s belligerent black-ops existence but it only offers a tiny slice of his reality. Yet wrapped up in a relatively rapid read there’s plenty of cultural comment and personal philosophy, sneaked in at the sidelines without hampering the pace of the plot. As before, we’re left wanting more…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Third Person by Frank Westworth is available as an ebook at Amazon
[Declaration of interest dept: I’m lucky enough to be able to read the Stoner stories as they are written as I’m more than a tiny bit involved with the author. However, this review is an honest one and represents my authentic reaction to the story as a reader]