Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Review: 'The Assassin's Keeper' by John McClements

Though no biographical information about John McClements is offered in either this book THE ASSASSIN’S KEEPER or in his debut novel 1982 written in 2012, the language and the pacing of this intriguing novel suggests a British voice. Perhaps it is the Ian Fleming (of James Bond notoriety) flavor of successfully mixing adventure with world crises that adds to that sense, but it is mainly the adroit use of language that is smart, pointed, and extremely fluid that makes this book work so very well.

John knows the ins and outs of Argentine history and politics and is especially keen on his understanding of the Falklands war. His 1982 focused on that strange war and this new novel continues to explore the interstices of Argentine political corruption and influences from the outside world. Pedro Garcia, a one man sleeper cell, is one of the well-drawn lead characters of the book. But better to offer John’s synopsis of the complex story: ‘The Assassin has been patient - a one man sleeper cell, waiting for the perfect time to exact his nation's revenge in spectacular and shocking style. Pedro Garcia is a veteran of the Argentine Inteligencia and US covert operations, a consummate professional, he can smell a skeleton in a closet and is a master of using this ability to blackmail and manipulate. Pedro's job is to ensure The Assassin is kept safe and is able to carry out his mission successfully. Pedro moves to San Francisco where his first recruit is Drinda, a sassy and duplicitous young woman recently acquitted of murdering her boyfriend. With Drinda's help, Pedro will lure London Chef John into their circle; making sure John is primed for the pivotal role he will play in London one day. Duped into a compromising position where he finds himself framed for murder, John must flee San Francisco. Back in London he rebuilds his life, getting married and preparing to start a family, until one day, Pedro arrives. Pedro holds the key evidence which will ensure John returns to the US to face two murder charges, unless he plays ball. John will find himself embroiled in the biggest scandal to hit the United Kingdom establishment since Guy Fawkes, will he risk everything he has worked for and blow the whistle?’

The story concentrates on Pedro and John who become entwined in a very long-range revenge project by the Argentine Intelligencia. In the Prologue John sets the intensity of the book: ‘He scanned the street for the slightest evidence that anything was out of place. All was as it should be, but still something was gnawing at him. There was no time for hesitation here. Pedro drew his Beretta and slowly began to place pressure on the brass door handle with his gloved hand. It wouldn’t do to leave any evidence. He moved it from the three o’clock position down to five, and then it released without so much as a click. Pedro pulled the door toward him and swung it flat against the side of the building. In the silence of the room, Pedro’s eyes darted to the jumbled pile of papers on the table which were preaching anti-government propaganda. He knew that the communists were about to put their revolutionary plans into action. His orders were to arrest the family who lived at the address. He cast his eyes around the dark kitchen. It looked like an ordinary family home, but then they always did. Family homes could be hotbeds of dissidents. Children made the most effective soldiers: no one expected them to have guns or explosives. No one stopped them joining crowds. There could be no mercy.’

With terrorism sweeping the globe at present John McClements has molded that degree of authentic espionage into a book that stays with you long after the last surprising ending. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, December 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.