As a confirmed devotee of Ryan David Jahn, was surprised that I did actually miss the release of The Gentle Assassin– slap on the wrists, but delighted to have caught up now! As my previous reviews testify, Jahn unerringly brings a film noirish tinge to his books, with his film-makers eye front and centre, backed up by his powerful and spare prose.
The book focuses on Andrew Combs, whose mother is murdered when he is a child in the early 60‘s, with his father disappearing soon afterwards. Twenty-six years later, Andrew is gunning for revenge, and seeks to track down and murder the man he holds responsible- his father Harry Combs. With Andrew believing his own version of events, his father Harry is a man with far darker secrets accrued from his career with the CIA and his possible involvement in the Kennedy assassination. The net is closing on Harry, not only with his prodigal son, but with those who are trying to extinguish his connection to the tumultuous events of the past. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues…
I think where Jahn always excels is in his examination of the human condition. In each of his books to date, the plot is always driven by the utterly real examination of the emotions, desires, strengths and failings which fuel our actions and relationships with others. Consequently throughout the book, the narrative pivots between the intense and fluctuating relationship between Andrew and Harry, with a series of imagined asides from both men with what their hearts are telling them to do, being over-ridden by, certainly in Andrew’s case, his moral core. As much as he wants to exact revenge on Harry, their is a still small voice manipulating his bravery and moral integrity, that proves an interesting counterpoint to the very different morality driving his father. These asides also work well for the reader fleshing out the huge amount of anger and resentment that is left partially unsaid, and as a result we are skilfully manipulated into changing our opinions and assumptions of two men as the story gathers pace. Harry in particular, now a mild-mannered bookseller, endlessly attentive to his cherished yet alcoholic wife, Teresa, is an enigma as Jahn takes us back and forth between events in the 60‘s and the present day. Jahn gradually reveals the many layers to Harry’s character, which provide more than one surprise along the way, whilst challenging the reader’s assumptions as to how far Andrew is a man made in his father’s image. It’s clever, unsettling, and Jahn’s manipulation of the usual linear story-arc adds to the reader’s changing viewpoint of these two compelling characters.
Incidentally, The Gentle Assassin opens, and is interspersed with, references to A Study of Assassination, a CIA pamphlet distributed to agents, a useful handbook on the various and most effective ways to dispose of a human being, and the circumstances in which these methods should be deployed. This was more than a bit of an eye-opener on the clinical nature of the professional assassin and gives an additional tension and mirror on Harry’s dark past. Taken in conjunction with the slowly revealed tensions of the unfolding relationship of Harry with his long lost son, Jahn once again neatly constructs a thought provoking and intriguing book, that reaches above and beyond the neat label of thriller, into a fascinating study of the human psyche, and the thorny implications of family loyalty.
Raven reviews: Ryan David Jahn- Acts of Violence, Low Life, The Dispatcher
(I bought this copy of The Gentle Assassin)