To repeatedly get away with murder for money, a female assassin must be calculating, careful and somewhat cold-hearted. Katla Sieltjes is all of the above, and much more. In the Killfiles short stories she comes across as an intelligent, accomplished and cautious professional. Skilled, trained and experienced in dealing death to her commercial targets. Imagine John Rain before he got romantically compromised; Bob The Nailer in an urban European environment, The Jackal with his chromosomes rearranged. Katla is competent and cunning, and these quick thrillers introduce her unique skill sets and author Martyn Halm’s style of writing.
The devil is in the detail, and these stories are absolutely stuffed full of it, even down to the brand of aerosol cleaner Katla uses to remove possible fingerprints from contaminated surfaces. If you adore the intricacy of precision planning, infiltration / exfiltration, and all the minutiae which comes with surveillance tradecraft then you’ll be wrapped up in the painstaking description of every step – trying to second-guess Katla’s plan of action to get away with murder (yet again) and scoop a handsome payday in the process.
For some readers, there will be excessive detail, and at times the writing can feel almost like an actual black-ops report rather than gripping fiction. It’s almost clinically detached; absorbed in accurate description to the nth degree. So look elsewhere for deft emotional development or incisive social commentary. But if you can’t resist a locked room mystery, or a credible scenario involving a document exchange which doesn’t leave the intermediary exposed on all sides, then there’s plenty to enjoy. Not least the unusual backdrop – Amsterdam, described in street-level detail – and the occasional incident of wry humour, like the name of Katla’s company, Loki (‘low key’, geddit?).
At the end of ‘Microchip Murder’, Katla reveals an interesting quirk, a moment of morality which suggests she may not be as isolated from society as she initially seems – neatly paving the way for the full-length novels which follow. I also enjoyed the attention to detail in ‘Locked Room’, which pays homage to the brides-in-the-bath murders (a landmark case in forensic pathology from the early 20th century).
These shorts were an entertaining interlude and a welcome introduction to an intriguing character. They work as stand-alone stories in any order, so you can try any if you want to meet Katla before getting into the full Amsterdam Assassin books.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Locked Room and Microchip Murder by Martyn V Halm are available as ebook as Amazon, occasionally on promotion