British author Branton’s fourth noir thriller (The House of Whacks, not reviewed), this one a chip off the Graham Greene block, This Gun for Hire, putting an aging hit man up against a youthful Contender while fleeing the people who once hired him.
Despite a dark but dopey Alan Ladd film version, the clotted Greene novel has not fared well and is laughable set beside The Human Factor or even Our Man in Havana. Nothing of the sort with Branton’s new bravura piece: it has gutsy faux-dialogue, is forcibly overwritten, has style lying thick on the storytelling—and it works. We begin with much remaining unexplained, and we trust that iron rails of melodrama will carry us through the fog. The hit-man Decker hires out in a small but forever undefined world of murder and, now in his late 40s, is seen by his ever-veiled employers perhaps as burned out—or ready to move up. His one contact is his Postman, who sends him forth to do his black deeds. Decker’s last job for the Postman (himself working behind a need-to-know smokescreen) is to off Miller, a married, middle-aged Postman himself who spends 14 hours a day at his computer but remains needy. Miller knows the rules, accepts the pistol Decker hands him, and offs himself. Decker flees to the States and drives ten thousand miles, knowing that an assassin follows him. That turns out to be Jake Olsen, the Contender—who has just lost his own Postman, Miller!—and now wants Decker to take him on as protégé. They swap dark wisdom and killers’ code for half the novel, looking for a way back into the game. Then they meet two women, one of them Lauren Reese, a swell-looking security agent—and a dish from hell.
Stylish young Branton’s future lies brilliant before him. May he make the great leap Greene did.