I am wet shoes.
I am cold, damp breath.
I am sweating hands.
I am gravity crushing the grass beneath my boots.
I am Kevlar and metal and lead.
I am laser sighting.
I am death.
And I am coming.
It feels like yesterday I was just writing a review about a sociopathic young male assassin facing THE conflict that will change his life.
The difference between that book and this one of course being, John Lago (the author of this handbook) reminds me a bit of Drew Evans… without the manwhoring, misogynistic charm and within the context of killing people professionally. The swagger, the ADD narrative, the nicknames for his junk (twig and berries vs cash and prizes… choose your poison), the movie quotes (gad the movie quotes) and references, the testosteroned one-liners… its like they’re brothers from different mothers. So in terms of entertainment value this one definitely brought it home. In terms of being a satisfying, cohesive book it left a little to be desired.
This was actually meant to be read as a handbook for the undercover operatives of Human Resources Inc. written by current fugitive John Lago. HR Inc poses itself as a placement agency for office interns who are actually assassins targeting CEOs and executives getting embroiled in dirty extracurricular activities. Lago is one such agent, the best in the field. Initially, the handbook served as an informal guide for his colleagues in training but as he discusses the rules, methods and finer points in killing people he also unravels his personal philosophies about the job, the organisation and life in general through anecdotes of his missions. Particularly his last before retirement, where he infiltrates a top law firm in New York as an intern to find and eliminate the partner selling the FBI’s Witness Protection list to the highest bidder.
Biggest issue: the handbook vs Zen guide vs rom-suspense novel narrative just messed with my investment towards John as a character. It shifts gears from being an actual guide to a manifesto to a romantic testosterone novel delivered by a snarky, rightfully arrogant narrator with a snobby taste in films. The integration of these details felt like it lacked a certain degree of finesse. It didn’t feel seamless enough for me not to notice the shifts in the pace and direction.
As a handbook it was actually quite interesting. John was an engaging narrator, a healthy mix of Tarantino (the person, not his films), mid to late 90s Cusack and essentially a Robin Leach-esque guide to the Lifestyles of the Trained and Deadly. He’s a pop culture junkie with a gift for snark and irony doling out lessons that may just come handy when you do decide to kill someone or in alcohol-laced trivia games in parties. From this book you learn:
*The preferences of crime organizations in killing people. (Though this one you could also learn from watching Sons of Anarchy and any Scorsese film)
*The materials needed to efficiently dispose a body.
*How much a bottle of 1956 Glen Garioche costs.
*How much you need to shell out for a bag of exotic Guatemalan coffee to be a weapon in your internly operations.
*Four of the eighteen principles of ninjutsu.
*How to remember the full chemical nomenclature of Amphetamine.
*What does your gun say about your personality.
So it was pretty fun AND informative in that aspect. Plus, unlike in some contemporary assassin books I've read as of late preferring clean efficiency, Kuhn doesn't shy away from the gore and, had this been a film itself, gratuitous violence. Tradecraft Tarantino indeed. Unfortunately, John's wild, ADD tendencies tend to distract from the fact that this is supposed to be a guidebook. Not a manifesto or the amusing ramblings of a killer.
As a rom-suspense, this was pretty standard-fare. Our male protagonist is emotionally crippled by his colored past but he must make use of the whip-smart junior associate in the firm Alice, as an asset in his operation by having a beyond professional affair with her.
I use my legs to constrict her chest cavity - like a boa constrictor. This actually forces blood to her head and heart while making it impossible for her to breathe. She passes out but only due to increased pressure in the brain transmitted through the veins returning to the chest. This is common in crush injury patients. I do it this way because I don’t want her to suffer irreparable brain damage from oxygen deprivation.
If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
The chemistry, the banter and the tension between John and Alice was there but it could have been executed better. The conversations in transcript form was good, consistency-wise with what Kuhn is trying to sell, but it also made the book feel emotionally sterile. Though one can argue this is not rom-suspense, but then from a certain standpoint, that's pretty debatable. Because I'm not sure if this would work without the reader being sympathetic to John. To be honest, I was in certain stretches and wasn't in others. I also wished for more John acting as an actual intern rather than glossing over the finer details of his cover in exchange for anecdotes and mindgames with Bob.
Yet inspite of all my issues with this story's delivery, I'd be lying if I claim this to be predictable or anything that I expected. I'd also be doing this book a disservice if I discuss the experience as a whole any further. It was... Interesting, let's leave it at that.
It’s like the end of a Scooby Doo episode written by the fucking Manson family... on acid.
Thanks to Robin for Buddy Reading this with me! <3