In Leitner’s debut novel, a retired assassin from a shadowy black-ops agency recalls his life, loves, losses and kills as he’s dragged back into intrigue and danger.
Leitner says that this story is based on “a friend”; readers, however, may be reminded of game-show producer Chuck Barris and his confabulated memoirs—Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Bad Grass Never Dies—claiming that, while hosting The Dating Game and The Gong Show, he led a secret life as a globetrotting CIA hit man. When captive first-person protagonist David is tormented and teased by a dominatrix interrogator in Budapest, his memories carry readers back to his mother’s early death and his war-veteran dad’s mentoring. David’s younger days are marked by heavy drug use and torrid love affairs, beginning with the precociously brilliant 15-year-old’s sexual indoctrination by a troubled research chemist who later summons David to witness her suicide. Sex and drugs remain a fixture throughout his college years, descriptions of which feature a haunting girl-who-got-away “with a smile that could guide ships safely around rocky shores.” At this point, some readers may start to wonder when the cloak-and-dagger stuff will kick off. When it does, David is blackmailed and threatened with his past indiscretions until he agrees to work for the dreaded “Department R” as a sleeper assassin. Physically nondescript but lethal when it counts, David is periodically activated to go abroad and kill alleged enemies—many of them exotic women he first beds, then doses with a painless but fatal injection. David considers this method chivalrous or, at the very least, making the best of things. Leitner’s narrative voice sometimes touches but never quite crosses the line into camp or satire. The lurid wet work and pillow talk, as well as the based-on-a-true-story gimmick, will help maintain readers’ interest in what otherwise may seem like a pulpy mimicry of Ian Fleming’s kinkier outtakes.
Readers’ mission, should they choose to accept it, is to wonder what’s real and what’s braggadocio in this regret-tinged stew of sex, love, murder and espionage.