on Nov. 1, 2011 :
It deserves 3 1/2 to 4 stars.
When I started reading the book, I was unsure what to expect. I hadn't read anything having to do with mob or assassins in the contemporary sense (only in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian urban fantasy environment).
So I started the book with an open mind and let myself get immersed in Clayton Albrecht's life during the late sixties and seventies.
Right from the start we understand that Clay is not like other people. Yes he looks like an ordinary young man, yes he is a construction worker and lives with his parents, Margaret and Walter and his sister,Lizzie, but there is a certain sense of detachment coming from him, even when he is dealing with them.
Maybe he would continue to be an ordinary man, if he is best friend wasn't Jimmy, the son of local gangster/mobster Tony Giliano and if he hadn't accidentally killed a man who attacked him late one night when he was drinking at a bar.
The killing wasn't intentional of course, and Clay did feel panic and sadness at first, but after getting over the initial shock he was able to make a decision that shaped his future.
He could contact the police and report the incident. Maybe it would be deemed an accident, but maybe he would be charged with manslaughter and that was something Clay couldn't live with.
Thus, he decided to leave the body hidden and go on his way. Like he himself said, he had a conscience just like everyone else, but unlike most others he found that he could just ignore and bury that voice inside his head at will.
There was nothing to link him to the murder so he went on with his life.
But once Jimmy, his best friend supposedly died in an accident, which he later uncovered to be an act of violence, he took the law into his hands and exerted his own kind of justice without telling anyone anything. Just like that, the barely-out-of-adolescence man, devised and executed a perfect plan meant to kill the man who pushed Jimmy to his death.
Of course, an execution like that, would attract the attention of Jimmy's father, Tony and when Clay revealed to him that he was the one who did it, he was impressed. It was, indeed, evident that Clay was a natural-born killer. :P
And a man like that could come in handy to a family like the Gilianis.
What excited me the most about this book, was the fact that it flowed quite easily and swiftly and it didn't feel stiff at all. Usually books that cover a lot of time (i.e. a whole decade) can get static at times, as the story evolves. This is not the case with this book.
We have clear characters, who are exactly what they appear to be, with no hidden motives or moments when their actions seem uncharacteristic.
On the contrary, we get to see the way people of this lifestyle lead their lives and how their life might revolve around criminal activities, but they can also maintain deep and meaningful relationships.
We don't see a lot of Jimmy, but his father Tony seems to be a strong, decisive man, who retains a sense of dignity and integrity throughout the book. Yes, he is a criminal, but he is not portrayed to use violence any more than necessary - where necessary is usually when a former employee or someone involved is on the verge of talking to the police or get too greedy. Is it easy for him to take the decision to kill someone? Yes, it is, but unlike in other situations, he isn't shown to kill someone's family to set an example or for revenge. It's only the person that crossed him.
Anna, his wife, seems quite intelligent and composed and it is quite clear that she is the force behind him. She is there to offer support and insight, which are both priceless. Later in the book we also find out that apart from the heart, she is also the brains of the whole family. I quite enjoyed every scene she was in, as she came across as classy and unassumingly efficient.
Their other children, apart from Adriana whom I grew to respect for her decisiveness and her truthfulness, seemed arrogant and hypocritical. If you are against the "family business" and you want to judge and declare your opposition and superiority, you can't accept the money coming from said business for your studies or lifestyle. That's just insulting.
Lizzie, was also a likable character that wasn't in the book that much, but towards the end she proved to be more than the frivolous, unreliable daughter. On the contrary, she supported her mother a lot when she needed it and was there for Clay, too.
As for Clay, he was by far the most impressive character of the book - even if hardly the most likable. How can a man go from ordinary and dull, to a full-time assassin, would be beyond me, had I not read this book.
Slowly but gradually, we follow Clay as he takes the grief (and sometimes the need for revenge)we would all feel over the murder or injury of a loved one, to an excuse to kill. I guess most of us have felt the urge to slap someone who hurt someone we love, but hardly do we contemplate hurting him/her and actually plan it and go through with it.
Clay, however, seems to have a knack for keeping a clear head during a time like that. He simply knows what to do in order to determine what is the best way to kill someone undetected.
The pages describing the way he watched and stalked his victims, extrapolating their most vulnerable moments from their habits are fascinating. He can literally spend days thinking of nothing else. The amount of dedication and meticulousness is unsettling and awe-worthy. At first, he is driven from the need to avenge people he cares about, which to some extent is comprehensible, but later on he becomes and assassin and can still keep his mind on the job, regardless of the fact that the person he is asked to kill hasn't done anything to him, might have a family etc.
You follow him throughout the whole planning, so everything makes sense (everything is plausible and there are no moments at which you want to roll your eyes) and works out in way that makes your head spin at how easy it could be for someone intent on killing!
And just when you think that Clay can be softie or "not all bad" he goes and does things that leave you with your mouth open. He kills the man staying at his former bootcamp instructor because he poses a threat (so it's something he has to do out of self-preservation in a way), but just before lighting the whole area on fire, he has time to grab food and beer from his fridge and even later he casually steals from his victims!
He is ruthless and headstrong and knows what to do to get what he wants...We have proof of that even in the last pages when he pushes "Adriana" into a decision.
The way he isn't shown to rationalize his actions, yet feel little to no remorse - in other words not lose any sleep over it - is chilling. And it's not even the way he is written that is chilling. It's the way he goes on with his life as if nothing has happened that stays with you the most.
One of his most impressive "feats" is killing a "potential" witness against three "families", while he is in protective custody (witness protection) at a random hotel, where he had no information whatsoever as to which room or which floor the man was in. The attention to detail, his perceptiveness and obviously his intelligence is quite astonishing.
All in all, Clay is a solid character who impresses you, but also scares you with the skill set he has and how he puts it to use. He is not immoral, he is not exactly amoral, but he isn't exactly moral either. The way he thinks about things is practical and straightforward. He has no second thoughts, he takes a decision and lives with its consequences and whatever he does, he convinces himself that it is the action he should take in order to progress in the way he wants.
He is good at killing people, so why not make money out of it?
He is smart with his investments, but he is not greedy or money-hungry. He likes the stability and security it offers. But he is also smart enough to realize that he needs something solid in his life, hence he starts his own business...
On the other hand, there are a few things that felt a bit awkward to me, while reading the book.
We do get a feel of the character, mostly when it comes to killing and "maneuvering" his life around that, but although there is no mention of him appreciating furniture etc, suddenly he decides to open and Antiques shop because he has always kind of liked it. It is of course quite convenient to pursue a profession like this since he can't get out of state without raising suspicions, but prior to that he wasn't shown to appreciate things like that. Then, when he has to murder someone in an skiing area in Canada, he has a little knowledge over that, because he used to go fishing with his step-dad. But even though he visits his parents, he is mostly there for dinner and I'm not sure a mention of fishing trips was there before. (Although he did go on fishing trips with Tony after he got his boat.)
Another instance is when his sister, Lizzie, is roofied and gang-raped and he finds out about it.
Yes, his sister might be a little fickle and have relationships with a lot of men, but that doesn't mean that she deserves something like this, especially since it wasn't her choice.
Yet, Clay feels that it could be a "lesson" to her, at first!!!
Seriously? His sister is gang-raped and it's a lesson? It was his sister and he only decided to take action and kill the man responsible, when he blackmailed Lizzie to do it again, so that he wouldn't show pictures of the incident. So it's the blackmail that went to far? The rape was "meh..."?
For someone who took the law into his own hands because his best friend was killed ad forms a deep bond with the head of a gang family, it's weird not to "avenge" his own sister, because clearly he is capable of emotions and love and devotion.
Besides, let's not forget it is the seventies, so there was this whole thing of "sexual freedom and revolution" , so his sister was hardly "that" fickle. It was a trend.
He did redeem himself later on, though when his sister revealed to him that she was a lesbian and he stood beside her.
Overall, this was an exciting first book in a series, that promises to impress you as well as scare you, because the main character, Clay is an ordinary man turned into a ruthless assassin not exactly out of necessity but out of skill!
People who enjoy a good crime read that doesn't have any plot holes and shows a deeply satisfying and meticulous attention to details, should not miss this one!
(reviewed 6 months after purchase)