First Contract is a short thriller that packs a solid punch and whets your appetite for the other books in this series. The protagonist of Westworth’s short is JJ Stoner, ex-military-now-civilian hitman, and the main character from the author’s JJ Stoner / Killing Sisters series.
Sergeant Stoner has cold-bloodedly executed five Iraqis in retaliation for one of them mortally knifing his fellow soldier. Charged with their murders, Stoner is approached by the Hard Man, a ‘horribly’ senior and successful spook who makes Stoner a proposition: agree to another meeting with him in exchange for the Hard Man having the charges against him dropped. Stoner, being a man of intelligence and clear vision, agrees.
The two quickly meet again and the Hard Man’s proposition is once again simple and to the point: Stoner will carry out a hit for him and, depending on how well he does, this may lead to other work in the future, for which he will be amply compensated, or he walks away and begins a new life. Stoner agrees and shortly afterwards arrives in Ireland, now unrecognisable as a seasoned biker driving a hog. He goes to an Irish pub with the intention of carrying out his first hit…
First Contract has plenty of violence and bloodshed and certainly isn’t for the weak of heart – or the weak of stomach. Westworth’s protagonist is probably best described as a ‘Jack Reacher gone rogue’ but unlike the fictional character made famous by author Lee Child, Stoner has an appreciation for the finer sensibilities in life like earthy blues music and sitting astride a solid Harley.
Somewhat ironically, though, the violence in the book is contrasted by the understated humour in certain spots. Case in point: when the Hard Man offers Stoner the job with the proviso that he must set up his own company through which he’ll issue invoices for his hits, aptly masked as innocuous ‘services rendered’. He must also employ the services of an accountant to ensure that the paper trail is ‘legal and above board’. That aspect of the author’s murder-for-hire scenario is quite hilarious and adds just the right amount of ironic humour to an otherwise bland discussion about murder.
Like the actions of Stoner himself, Westworth’s prose is simple, yet effective. He doesn’t resort to an over-use of elaborate adjectives to evoke emotion. One would think that after reading about the murders in the book, one would become desensitised to the violence. While that’s certainly true, the character of Stoner himself is a paradox that manages to keep some of the violence grounded. On the one hand, he’s a cold-blooded killing machine who takes life with no vestiges of remorse yet on the other, thoughts of touring Ireland atop his Harley invoke an uncharacteristic well of emotion within him.
First Contract is a must-read for all lovers of spy game thrillers, political espionage and of murders and mayhem. There is action aplenty with the reader right in the middle of the thick of things. However, a bit more of an introduction to the story at the beginning would have been preferred, as would a less abrupt ending.
While not a long read, it nevertheless packs a solid punch and for this, I rate First Contract a solid 3 out of 4 stars.