A hit man discovers his inner aesthete. Uh-oh.
From childhood on, John Cole hated his old man with a passion. The permanently angry blue-collar worker would go into the woods outside their Hudson River town and shoot everything in sight. Cole inherited his father’s expert marksmanship; he left home before they shot each other. Unemployed, he was hired to put his skill to good use…on a human target. He had found his profession. Word of his expertise spread. He moved to London to work for a worldwide conglomerate known as the Firm; he never missed his targets. But when we first meet the 33-year-old Cole, he has the nagging feeling that he’s off his game. A quick job in Paris has taken a whole week, and he almost botches his next job, outside a Georgian house in the English countryside. He gets his man but is forced to shoot a bystander as well, breaking a cardinal rule. This is a terrific start. First-time novelist De Feo hooks us as he describes Cole tracking his quarry. These are clean kills; there is no splatter. The author also has a great premise: that a hired gun’s need for a career change might take him in a wholly unexpected direction. That beautiful Georgian house has sparked Cole’s imagination. Why couldn’t he be the owner? He buys books on Georgian architecture. An escapist fantasy becomes a scholarly pursuit. The Firm sends him to New York to lie low after that countryside mess. Here the novel stalls; De Feo doesn’t know what to do with Cole except have him buy more books and visit museums. He becomes a bore, moaning about his miserable childhood on a pointless visit to his hometown. By the final segment in Barcelona, Spain, scene of Cole’s new assignment, his transformation is complete. The hit man, in denial, has become a student of Spanish architecture.
Though character development is a real problem, De Feo is definitely a newcomer to watch.