The title tells you exactly what to expect of this rapid-fire, rattling read: the back story to a calculating contract killer. It’s cleverly presented in a series of episodes which almost form standalone short stories, as Jack the discharged Royal Marine becomes Jack the rudderless, Jack the flat broke, then Jack the opportunist… and gradually refines himself into Jack the international hit man.
As his skills at killing civilians are honed, so Jack rids the planet of several people it’d be better off without. He’s a curiously moral killer who needs to know that his ‘customers’ deserve their grisly ends. But that’s fine: there’s plenty of appalling people out there, after all. Necrophiliacs, evil cult leaders, murderers, abusers and brutalising bullies all meet their just desserts. And then the real story starts, as Jack gets involved in government machinations and the sale of nuclear secrets to distinctly unsafe hands…
Along the way he finds himself forming an unexpected connection which becomes central to the story. No spoilers, but I was reminded of Barry Eisler’s John Rain character, and his relationship with Delilah.
The plot never bogs down in unnecessary exposition – author Richard Godwin doesn’t hang around and cuts right to the kill. The action is intense, right down to the last gasp as a garrotte wire bites deep into delicate flesh, but the violence is used to punctuate the plot, not simply to shock or soak the scene in bloodspatter. At times the actual action is quietly understated, while the developing threat to Jack’s own wellbeing rises menacingly from the shadows.
There are some sequences where a little more attention to tradecraft might’ve added more authenticity, and the editing could’ve been tighter in places (cutting a car’s ‘break wires’?).
But overall it’s entertaining and easy to read. Jack is a class act.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Portrait of An Assassin by Richard Godwin is available at Amazon
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