Roman Catholic priest and novelist Peter Quince finds himself the surprised employer of an icy, international CIA hit man, whose secret yearning for absolution risks both their lives.
Prolific author Roccasalvo (Triple Sec: Three Distilled Love Stories, 2013, etc.) evokes Graham Greene, rather appropriately, in a novella-length tale of political intrigue, guilt, sin, and redemption. Quince has written a popular mystery-thriller novel, The Thirteenth Floor. Quite unexpectedly, he inherits an entire Mediterranean island and estate from a prosperous Italian artisan he knew only briefly. Quince uses this tourists’ idyll to work on much-anticipated international stage versions of The Thirteenth Floor, but in the meantime makes the troubling acquaintance of another estate fixture, the island’s live-in “security” specialist, Kai Landrie. A Eurasian yoga master with ninja stealth, marathon-runner stamina, and Buddhist self-control, Landrie spends weekends away as an elite assassin for the CIA, killing enemies of the United States with nothing but his bare hands. He makes a specialty of Islamic terrorists, having seen his parents slain (and been himself raped) by Muslims in Thailand. Despite his steely predator exterior, Landrie is severely divided against himself, and he seeks and listens to Quince’s religious counsel of forgiveness and compassion as a counterweight to his drive for revenge. But CIA Director Titus Rede learns of his prize killer’s dawning conversion and finds the meddlesome priest a threat to national security. Roccasalvo uses only a bit more than 100 pages and lean prose reminiscent of classic Ian Fleming (minus the sexual emphasis and brand-name luxury products lovingly described) to unfold a tragic narrative of the sacred and the damned seemingly trying to bridge the gulf between each other. The author includes a clerical nod toward the culture of Italy that sired religious, scientific, and artistic breakthroughs alongside the murderous rules of the Medicis and Borgias. Readers may find the material straddling the aisles between spiritual vestments and cloak-and-dagger, although at no point does the author succumb to thrill-ride antics and pulpy purple prose. He does, however, add excerpts from The Thirteenth Floor as an occasional story-within-the-story; it’s actually interesting stuff (blending architecture, whodunit, and the paranormal), but borderline distracting.
Though the book’s war-on-terror filigree edges close to the universe of Jason Bourne, the (holy) spirit is willing in this bumpy, parablelike tale.