Ex-military sergeant and assassin, JJ Stoner, has had his strings pulled one too many times by the intelligence world he inhabits, one in which he sometimes gets his payday from characters who straddle the boundaries between national interest and nefariousness, and has taken to the back roads of America for a little reflection and respite. But unfinished business and loose ends slowly lure him to mete out revenge for a sadistic and personal slight. The almost supernatural foe he must encounter and overcome is skilfully built to resemble the devil incarnate. Perhaps all is not as sliced and diced and clear cut as it first seems though.
This is not a regular, frenetic thriller. It’s more a study of inaction rather than a series of set pieces of action. But while it goes against convention, and possibly reader expectation, the upshot is it avoids being formulaic. This is a ponderous reflection providing a portrait of the inner life of a killer who believes in nothing, has no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy. It feels authentic. Much of the sense of realism comes from the wonderful encapsulation of setting by the author and the meandering domesticity, interspersed with casual but significant violence and no-holds-barred sexual encounters, which foster the feeling of being right there alongside him.
It’s a cut-out for these changing times. Stoner, the masculine in crisis, is the old guard being replaced by a younger generation of modern, almost gender-neutral cyber-spooks. He is reviewing the life lived through a rear-view mirror. The reader becomes immersed in watching Stoner calculate his next step vengeful moves as he becomes increasingly entrenched on a course of violent catharsis for his broken psyche.
This contemplative study of the Übermensch in decline, searching for his own meaning, is a slow burn which gets under the skin via vivid, sense-filled writing by an author with a unique voice. I’m seduced by Stoner and his world but I want to love him for the right, redemptive reasons. Instead I find myself looking on as a voyeur with a monstrous fascination.