JJ Stoner, ex-military, ex-intelligence, sometime mercenary, is tasked with overseeing a female assassin’s latest contract when unknown players interject themselves with an agenda of their own. Stoner meanwhile is at a midpoint in his life and is reflecting on the path that has led him to this point, questioning whether he wishes to continue walking along it, and perhaps using the feminine killer, Chastity, as a mirror to reveal some insight into himself.
There’s a lot to love about this book which for me, is heaving with contradictions. We open to a dazzling set piece of action in the desert only to change direction, pacing-wise, and continue on with what felt like a very long chapter and ponderous transitioning between scenes interrupting the forward momentum. Defying the unrelenting pace of most thrillers, certain parts of the book required my utmost concentration and persistence as they meandered in a circumspect way to the next gripping scene of action, rather like making good headway on a long motorway journey then making several stops at services before further progress is possible.
The author has a true talent for creating a rich cast of characters who genuinely pique the interest; an original set of henchmen, Chastity the assassin plying her tradecraft like a badass, and JJ Stoner himself, an aging, whisky-soaked, blues-loving alpha male rendered all the more interesting because of his maturing years. The caveat here is with Stoner we’re presented with the classic anti-hero and by default the anti-heroic dilemma: what’s there to like and why should we care?
There were questions to which I sought answers. What are the reasons for Stoner acting as he does? What’s the line Stoner won’t cross? What underdog is he prepared to help? Where does his honour lie? Where are his vulnerabilities and therefore the contradictions in his psyche? What does his lack of morality have to say about humanity? And has a trick been missed because wouldn’t such reflections act as profound statement? Anti-heroes without these redeeming features can sometimes be unidentifiable from the role of antagonist, are almost too vile to like, yet you keep on reading to see if redemption is possible or in the hope that at least the topic will be explored.
Despite obfuscated goals, somehow Stoner was endearing and managed to get under my skin to the point where I’m certainly interested to read more. This cast of characters along with the dark, gritty sex and violence reminded me of the early work of Andrew Vachss and that makes me a fan.