Wednesday 6 January 2010

Killer - Dave Zeltserman

Reading Killer is a bit like watching The Godfather or Reservoir Dogs. We enter the cold, emotionless, horrifyingly violent world of the mob where loyalty (when it really counts) and scruples (at any time) are unknown concepts. Nothing or nobody matters, except pulling off the next hit to stay alive and keep on the right side of the Mob. Targets are just names and ruthless hitmen don't want or need to know anything about them, their families or their lives - not that it would make any difference to them if they did.

Leonard March was exactly this kind of ruthless hitman for years, unbeknownst to his wife and family, until he betrayed his Mafia "buddies" and boss Salvatore Lombard, becoming a state's witness in return for a Get-out-of-jail-free card. Taking advantage of this immunity, he confessed to eighteen murders during his time with the Mob, knowing that he would only have 14 years' hard time to serve before walking free. Those fourteen years have now passed and Leonard is a free man again.

As can be expected, Leonard reenters the free world with absolutely no friends - his wife died of cancer while he was inside and his kids have disowned him - and a whole lot of enemies : Lombard's men, the victims' families, even members of the general public who have learned about his horrific crimes in the media. He may be free but he still has to keep lookig over his shoulder.

But the cold, calculating, vicious thug we expect to see turns out to be more of a bumbling, tired, surprisingly likeable 62-year-old. As he struggles to wash the smell of prison off his skin and tries in vain to rebuild a relationship with his children, we can't help but see a less despicable side to his nature. Especially when we learn that many of his victims were not as "whiter than white" as the media would have everyone believe (yet another Dexter-style "I only rid the world of scum" justification !) and he even confuses everyone by becoming a hero and preventing an armed robbery.

The constant switching from tales of his vicious past life to seeing him trying to fit in as a hard-working janitor in his new life constantly throw us off balance and we never really know quite what to make of him. Good guy or bad guy ? Probably a bit of both but in which measures ? Our viewpoint keeps on changing as the author toys with our affections.

Leonard spends the whole of the book looking over his shoulder, trying to spot one of his enemies out to get him - and I had the feeling that I spent the whole of the book looking over my shoulder for some action. The flashbacks provided lots of Tarantino-esque stakeouts, beatings and murders but apart from cleaning toilets and eating in coffee shops, nothing much seems to happen in Leonard's new life, so the book seems sluggish at times.

I found the end to be a bit of a let-down. It wasn't what I was expecting and in just a few short lines, it seemed to wash away everything I'd just spent the whole book trying to pinpoint, namely my feelings for Leonard. It was certainly an ending with a twist, but for me it wasn't convincing or complex enough for me to not feel cheated and manipulated.

The flashbacks to the dark doings of the Mafia and Leonard's crimes provide lots of high energy scenes and excitement but the chapters dealing with Leonard's new life and the ending left me feeling that this book went out with a whimper rather than a bang ! This is the third in Zeltserman's 'badass gets out of jail' series so if you've enjoyed the first two, I'm sure you'll love it.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £7.99

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Serpent's Tail (7 Jan 2010)
ISBN-10: 184668644X
ISBN-13: 978-1846686443

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