An assassin embarks on a mysterious mission.
Brabazon sets his debut novel in the war-torn region of West Africa, an area he has also chronicled as a filmmaker and journalist (My Friend the Mercenary, 2011). His narrator is Max McLean, a supersoldier who does black ops for the British. Years ago his superiors trained him as an assassin because he was willing to follow orders without question—even orders to kill. They dubbed him “a legally sane psychopath.” But now Max also insists that he has an uncompromising moral compass: “The most enduring thread of humanity I had left to hang on to was wrapped around…the certainty that the people I killed were bad people: their guilt served to expiate mine.” Due to his pesky conscience, he botches a job in Caracas, but his superiors give him a chance to redeem himself. His new target is an unidentified white man in rural Sierra Leone. Information is scarce, but something strange is definitely afoot. (The last British agent sent to kill the mystery man went barking mad.) The rest of the story is fast-paced, has a good twist or two, and is incredibly violent. That’s not unusual for the spy thriller genre, and neither are Brabazon’s themes of duty versus conscience, loyalty versus betrayal. There’s nothing wrong with replaying the classics, of course, but Brabazon has a tendency to state his themes rather than developing them through character and plot. Max thinks about weighty issues (“I never knew if he was driven by duty or friendship. I tacked between those two poles, lost in a sea of blood of my own spilling”), but his reflections don’t ultimately change his behavior. Soon enough, he’s spilling more.
Plenty of action and violence but thematically unsatisfying.