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The Gentle Assassin by Ryan David Jahn

The Gentle Assassin

by Ryan David Jahn

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Author RD Jahn is an expert at creating fully-fledged, complicated characters. He places them in ambiguous moral circumstances, fraught with fatal possibilities, and he does all this without wasting a word.

In The Gentle Assassin, we meet Harry living a quiet life in 1990 or so. A mild-mannered bookseller who spends much of his time mopping up after his alcoholic wife. But Harry has a bitter past, one crammed with ice-cold acts of intentional violence. Harry-Present has does his best to bury Harry-Past, but when his adult son (abandoned as a very young boy) comes looking for him, the past catches up with Harry in a big way. While it’s not clear which of Harry’s personae is best suited to cope with the situation, the son himself is working to a deadly agenda…

Jahn chops and swaps the narrative perspective and tells his story in bite-size chunks. So historic events are gradually revealed in flashbacks; the ongoing story is told from multiple perspectives. Not everyone will enjoy this form of storytelling – you have three separate beginnings to reconcile – and it’s not initially clear what has actually occurred and what might be only acted out in the minds of the characters. The story itself is interrupted by excerpts from a CIA assassination handbook: chilling in its purposeful clarity.

This slim novel sneakily incorporates substantial philosophical debate into a streamlined story. Jahn shapes the outline of a compelling moral dilemma with a few swift strokes. His characters reveal their complexity in word and deed and he touches on many serious subjects: on inherited destiny; whether it is possible to reform and repent; the difference between assassination and murder; even who shot JFK.

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Almost every chapter ends with a cutting observation, a blunt statement of human truth. A moment to make the reader stop. And think. On top of all that, there is a genuinely gripping dénouement where we’re really not sure what the outcome will be. Certainly someone will die. But who?

If you have read [b:The Winter of Frankie Machine|164760|The Winter of Frankie Machine|Don Winslow|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1400642727s/164760.jpg|235777] (and you should) then you’ll find many similarities here. Likewise, [b:A Last Act of Charity|22602019|A Last Act of Charity (Killing Sisters, #1)|Frank Westworth|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1404054107s/22602019.jpg|42088165] approaches the same subject from a different perspective. The Gentle Assassin is outright excellent, in any case. An excellent example of just how good – how relevant, how thoughtful – crime fiction can be.

9/10 ( )
  RowenaHoseason | Jun 22, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0230757553, Paperback)

A thriller with the pace and tension of Mark Billingham and the laconic style of Ramond Chandler

It wasn't every day you had the chance to track down the man who'd killed your mother.

In 1964, Andrew Combs' mother is killed in front of him. His father Harry vanishes soon afterwards. Twenty-six years later Andrew wants revenge. There's only one way he can let go of his past and become the man he wants to be: track down and kill his mother's murderer. His father. But while Andrew thinks he knows what happened all those years ago, the truth is far darker. For Harry Combs turns out to be a man of many secrets. As shadowy figures from Harry's past threaten his life, and Andrew inches closer to killing him, the two men find themselves playing a very dangerous game of life and death—and only one of them can survive.

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 01 Jul 2016 17:26:36 -0400)

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