Tour’s Books Blog

February 22, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The Assassin by Stephen Coonts

There are several books with the title The Assassin, including one by Andrew Britton that’s sitting in my ‘to be read’ pile. Don’t believe me? Just do a search on Amazon or Barnes and Nobel for books with ‘Assassin’ in the title. The Assassin for this review is Stephen Coonts’ version and once again Admiral (ret) Jake Grafton and the reformed thief turned CIA operative Tony Carmellini are teamed up to thwart terrorist Abu Qasim and world class assassin Kahdir.

Anyone who follows Stephen Coonts is familiar with Jake Grafton from books like Hong Kong, Cuba, and Liberty. Carmellini has the lead here as he did in the Coonts’ novels, Liars and Thieves and The Traitor. The breezy and irreverent first person narrative makes for easy reading, but can’t hide the many technical flaws in the plot – like breaking high level encryptions in minutes.

The story begins well enough when the son of a very wealthy American, Hunting Winchester, dies in Iraq as he tries to save a woman trapped in a car rigged with an explosive device. A grieving father, seeking to give his son’s death meaning, makes an offer to his old friend, the president – a group of businessmen are prepared to use their resources and fortunes to hunt down otherwise unreachable terrorist operatives – and damn the laws. Hummmmmmm The president sends Jake Grafton.

The trap starts with the illegitimate daughter of wanted terrorist, Abu Qasim, who is married to a French government official. Marisa Petrou is to all appearances totally uninvolved in anything to do with her father. In fact, she might not even be Qasim’s daughter, but the CIA thinks she is and too many secrets are leaking. Husband Jean seems to be no more than the usual son of a wealthy family headed by his mother. He’s a spendthrift, and not faithful, but not especially bright or ambitious government bureaucrat. His mother, Isolde Petrou, is a formidable woman keeping secrets of her own. Naturally, Tony can’t resist the lovely socialite Marisa. Predictable.

When the dust settles in Europe, the action returns to DC and gunmen go after Grafton’s wife and daughter at his apartment, the ‘backup’ is the unarmed Willy, Carmellini’s partner in the lock shop! Come on people, you’re trying to lure and track a terrorist and you use an unarmed civilian? HINT: CIA and FBI have lots of undercovers available on call. And DC is littered with private contractors more than happy to help out for a reasonable fee – no questions asked.

The character I actually had a grudging like for was Khadir, the paid assassin hired by Qasim. “I kill because I get paid for it……. A Crime, a sin, whatever, I do it for money, like a whore. You buy murder because you hate. I leave it to your Allah to judge between us as to who is the evil man.”

The climax of the book happens – on a dark and stormy night (eyeroll) – at the Winchester estate. In yet another cliché, all the key characters are there, like they’re waiting for Poirot to reveal if it was Miss Scarlett in the in the library with the candlestick – or just old fashioned sitting ducks. What self respecting spy master, military commander – or even semi-intelligent person, would risk their families by allowing them to be virtual staked goats?

If there was one word that summed up this book, I guess it would be “lame”, or the equally valid choice “implausible”. I expect more reality from Coonts, especially in technical and governmental areas, than what I got. I enjoy the character of Tony Carmellini, but he seems stuck forever in a slightly post-adolescent mindset that at his age should be long gone. Jake Grafton and wife Callie fared much better in the earlier books than they do here. The story was trite and predictable, the characters borrowed from numerous scripts and other novels with no sign or real creativity. Most were little better than cartoon cutouts. I kept getting the sense that I’ve read this book before, even though I bought it within days of release. What made the book somewhat palatable were the occasional acerbic observations from Carmellini. Much as I might wish otherwise, it wasn’t able to save the silly plot.

My Grade: D+ to C-

Who would enjoy this book: Fans of James Bond who don’t mind the lapses in logic if there’s enough action and snappy dialogue. The rating for this book is PG.

Borrow this one from the library. If you MUST buy it, wait for the paperback.


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