An enforcer for a 24th-century corporation strives to protect a young girl from his powerful employers in Hunt’s (Okuda!, 2018, etc.) sci-fi thriller.
Working for Syrch Corp affords Paul Thorne great pay and benefits. He and his partner, Rif Slater, have an office on Papen’s World, the main planet in Syrch’s home system. The men’s jobs as enforcers, however, entail threatening, harming, or even killing the corporation’s enemies. Their latest assignment comes from Syrch biochemist Dr. Warner Gibson, who walks into the office with a golden coin, a technological device containing info on a Syrch-sanctioned assassination. Paul and Rif immediately balk at the job. The target, Jillian Caldwell, is Gibson’s niece. Her late parents were Syrch employees who stole sensitive information that’s now on Jillian’s cranial mesh, an implant for interfacing with computers. But Paul is truly disturbed once surveillance reveals that Jillian is 9 years old. He doesn’t want to kill a child, but saying no to Syrch is a veritable death sentence. So he decides to investigate, certain that if he can discover why the corporation has put a hit on a little girl, there’s a chance he can save her. Unfortunately, Syrch has other enforcers who won’t hesitate to kill Jillian, who, along with Paul, will have to run and hide, if possible, off-world. Paul, meanwhile, learns that Jillian is special, with a considerably high IQ, which may explain why she’s a target.
This short novel is a quick read, but it’s Hunt’s masterful storytelling that keeps the pages turning. Story exposition, for one, doesn’t stymie the plot, as background details, like corporations and planets, unfold as needed. The first half is superbly atmospheric. Perpetual rain in Papen’s World, due to its dense ozone layer, shrouds the planet in gray skies and allows Paul to hide in shadow, which is where he’s most comfortable. It’s not unlike film noir, with Paul as the flawed hero (he’s murdered before at Syrch’s behest) and Gibson as the untrustworthy homme fatale. What the book’s latter half forgoes in somber ambiance, it more than makes up for in action. Paul, for example, evades enforcers in vehicles or on ships but can’t avoid occasional scuffles and the injuries that often accompany them. Hunt’s prose throughout, be it a gunfight or surveillance, shines: “Suddenly a sharper peppering sound, like a tiny cannon in rapid fire, reverberated in the air, and lights flashed from the Raven’s twin miniguns, throwing lead in front of Paul’s car in warning.” Although some of the story is predictable, there’s an effective twist near the end. The novel includes lists of characters, places, terminology, and an extensive timeline of the series’ universe, of which this book is only a small part.
An action-laden, sometimes-moody tale with an unforgettable futuristic setting.