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Joseph, a young assassin drafted into a longstanding shadow war in which loved ones are routinely killed for no apparent reason but revenge, falls in love with a Canadian girl and attempts to escape to a new life with her.

Joseph, the would-be hero and narrator of Shane's first novel, doesn't know what he's fighting for, only that if he doesn't do his job, the "evil" deeds committed by the other side won't be answered. Knives are preferred over guns. The best weapons are his bare hands, which he uses to choke a targeted woman to death outside her Brooklyn brownstone in the book's opening scene. Though the war has been going on for some time, most people seem to be unaware of it, even though high-school kids are instructed on their future roles. (You have to be 18 to become a soldier; no one under the age of 18 can be killed.) After he falls for Maria during a botched job in Montreal—they meet cute in front of a porno theater—he tells her what he does and breaks all kinds of other rules to be with her, especially after learning she's carrying his baby son. He also violates code to spend time with his two best friends and fellow killers, Michael and Jared. There are other assignments in the war, we learn. You can also work intelligence or be a "breeder" leading a domestic life to keep the ranks replenished. Credibility is not Shane's strong suit. There are too many question marks and unlikelihoods hanging over the plot, and over 17-year-old Maria. Give the author credit for sustaining the story as well as he does, and for devising a compelling finish. But he hasn't satisfactorily worked out his premise, one reason why the paranoia played up in the title is never felt on the page. Having introduced the rule that if you have a child before you turn 18, you have to turn it over to the other side, Shane does nothing with it. Maybe he's saving that for the sequel he sets up.

Senseless individuals carry out a senseless sort-of-secret war, with not a true hero or even a protester in sight.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95237-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2011


FictionTHE CHILDREN OF MEN by P.D. James
by P.D. James