An assassin confronts his handler’s disorientation and secrecy in this conspiracy novella.
Kerper’s debut follows an unlikely pair of protagonists through their strange relationship and into an even stranger plot to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Nick and Grant are both outsiders; they meet in the porn store where Nick works. Through Kerper’s dual narration, with chapters alternating between the two protagonists, we soon learn some of the strange occurrences that happened in each man’s life. Grant is a former secret agent, and Nick is a former pentathlete. Both have fallen from grace into an unfamiliar, unfriendly world. Grant has big plans, though, and throughout the course of this novella, Kerper reveals his scheme, giving Nick details as quickly as he does the reader. The disorienting shifts of perspective, while jarring and sometimes unnecessarily fragmented, assist Kerper both in pacing and more importantly in creating a paranoid mood. Grant’s tales and his discourses on American foreign policy evoke a conspiracist worldview that keeps the slow-moving plot entertaining. But the disorienting nature of the oscillating point of view increases over the course of the novel as each protagonist’s voice and behavior becomes increasingly inconsistent. Nick’s descent into apathy and nastiness feels particularly unbelievable. It’s difficult to suspend disbelief for many of the major plot points, especially those as basic to the novel as Grant’s decision to groom Nick to become an assassin. While Kerper’s characters are certainly unique, their histories and choices seem unlikely. Beyond these problems, though, the novella’s form feels refreshing and inventive, which may justify a look for fans of experimental literary spy fiction.
An uneven story, but a novel approach to the spy genre.