Assassin Eighteen by John Brownlow – blog tour

I am delighted to be one of those leading off the blog tour for this page-turning thriller. Imagine, if you will, that there is a long lineage of the world’s greatest hitmen – seventeen ‘generations’ actually – and that you only get to the top of the tree by killing the current leader. So seventeen had to kill sixteen to claim the top place. These hitmen were/are for hire to anyone, usually governments, sometimes individuals, to kill, protect, spy. Got that? Now you can dive in to enjoy this pacy thriller which was more of a new take on the hitman sub-genre for me than the espionage I’d expected (although that does come in later).

Seventeen was the protagonist in Brownlow’s previous novel and first in this series, Agent Seventeen, which I’ve not read (yet), and having read Assassin Eighteen I can say that it’s not necessary, although there are frequent references to the deceased Sixteen, you don’t need to have read the previous book. It begins with Seventeen trying to be retired, but always aware that the person who would be Eighteen must be out there somewhere. Living in the former Sixteen’s secluded house, he has even taken to deliberately standing silhouetted in the window. As the novel’s tagline goes:

‘I am waiting for someone to kill me. Tonight would be a good night for it.’

Then one night, someone does shoot from the woods, but the bullet doesn’t penetrate sixteen’s reinforced glass. Who was the sniper?

Hardly expecting to catch up with the sniper, Seventeen is surprised to find a young girl in the woods with a gun set up for her. The ten-year-old doesn’t say much, but he learns her name is Mireille. He enlists the help of one of his neighbours, Barb, one of the few people in the world that he trusts, to look after her, while he goes off to search for whoever left her there and why they did it. To cut a long story short, he ends up at a motel, where he discovers a dead body of a woman, and two passports. He’s shocked to find that he knows the woman, and one of the passports is Mireille’s and it shocks him, changes him. They’ve both got targets on their backs now.

This is the beginning of a race against time, as he returns to find Barb murdered, Mireille kidnapped. The child being held by against a ransom – the fee being the other half of something that Seventeen has no idea of what it is, but if the ransomer gets both halves of this McGuffin, world domination may happen…

On the run, Seventeen heads for New York, where his former lover, Kat is living unhappily with a cafe owner in hip Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It doesn’t take much to get her back on his side, and together they start to work out what it’s all about and plan how to outwit Mireille’s captor and their feared henchman. As you might imagine with a contemporary thriller, there’s high tech involved. They’ll end up in Svalbard with the Russians on their tail too.

Primarily known as a screenwriter before turning to novels, Brownlow keeps his chapters short and snappy, and I can really see this book being streamed on TV. Seventeen’s characterisation is multi-layered, from his manufactured hitman facade as the ‘entitled white asshole’ who does ‘security-by-being-totally-fucking-out-there’, to realising that he has a heart, the point at which all assassins should retire (even Bond knows this). Of course, like Bond, Bourne and Reacher, Seventeen is clever and resourceful and he seems to be able to take inordinate amounts of physical punishment and still get up for another round. I must admit to quite liking him…

I particularly liked Kat though, who is billed as ‘spiky’ in the blurb, quite apt, at least at first. She has her own secrets of course, (I don’t know if we met her in Agent Seventeen, not having read that yet). She is a great foil to Seventeen, and it’s good to find that more women of all kinds feature as supporting characters, alongside the all-action he-men.

One thing you may have been wondering… the book is titled Assassin Eighteen, will we find out who that is? What will happen to Seventeen? I couldn’t possibly say. There’s a great twist though. Nuff said!

I devoured this novel in a couple of sittings. You can expect action with a good deal of violence all the way, a very televisual story told with a certain amount of humour which lightened the mood periodically. Good hitman fun!!!

Source: Review copy – thank you. Hodder & Stoughton hardback, 480 pages.

BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

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