Fresh Meat: The Assassins by Gayle Lynds

The Assassins by Gayle Lynds is a thriller where six international assassins, each assembled from a dark corner of the globe, team up together to steal a fortune from the middle of a Middle Eastern war zone (available June 30, 2015).

Assassins. Six of them, to be precise, get the story rolling from the blood-streaked streets of a crumbling Baghdad. They have landed in the country of Iraq to collect a debt, the first half of which was paid for their murderous work, on the grubby international stage of guns for hire, but the contractor has not kept a promise to pay the second part of the installment, once the job is done.

Although there was no trust in the venal business of international wet work, occasionally there was respect, and Burleigh Morgan was respected. Other top independent assassins would accept a job from him, which was why Saddam Hussein had hired him to put together a team for a series of particularly sensitive international terminations. Besides Morgan, the Basque, and the Russian, there were a former jihadist, a retired Mossad operative, and a peripheral member of the Cosa Nostra. They had executed their assignments perfectly. The problem was, Saddam had never paid the second half of what he owed them.

They could have sent a lawyer's letter, but the debtor would probably not have replied. At that point, Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti, the fifth President of Iraq, to give him his full title, certainly couldn’t have reached for his checkbook to catch the last post. Assassins do not prefer to deal in correspondence anyway; they prefer hot, unrelenting lead.

The city is crumbling, fast, and everyone is getting their hands on what they can. The assassins are no different. They have arranged with a double-crossing Iraqi General, who is also related to the ruler of Iraq, to get their hands on an ancient and valuable limestone tablet. It dates from when the country was known as Mesopotamia, but the killers are less interested in the provenance necessary to get it considered for Antiques Roadshow than they are in the estimate the General has given of its worth: twelve million dollars. The bullets will fly hot and fast, and when they do, the looted artifact gets dropped, broken, and split into several pieces. Art dealers the assassins are not, so little clarity can be demonstrated by any of them as to whether they can muster enough to retire on, now that the booty has been prematurely split. Greed will drive them to an answer.

When the story relocates to America, author Gayle Lynds serves up enough CIA-style dark intrigue to satisfy the most demanding of readers. The action revolves around Judd Ryder, who knows what he is, understands what he isn’t, and knows nothing is what it seems. He is square-jawed, fit, and handy with a weapon, which is what is to be expected of main characters in stories with titles likes this one. He has new issues, too, as he comes into contact with men who may have played a part in his father’s death. He’ll also realize there’s a “double” impersonating him. He finds trying to put the pieces of that jigsaw together harder than trying to make the ancient tablet whole again. The writing is tight, with just enough flesh on the bone that your teeth don’t grate. There’s tension, like a bullet in the chamber, without bullets flying constantly. I am delighted with that, as too much gunfire can give me a headache, and, after all, someone has to stay alive to keep the story moving.

Driving with one hand, she gripped her cell in the other until it hurt. Was she really that bull-headed? She peered out at a great sea of moon-glistening white—the snowy plain across from Chapman’s property. It made her think of cross-country skiing and snowmen, of childhood. But her childhood had been shaped by a drunken father and a distraught mother. She had been the one who had held all of them together. She had learnt a lot of lessons then.

Shaking her head, she checked her odometer then did a u-turn. Cruising back, she parked across from Chapman’s service entrance. As she killed the car’s engine, she studied the imposing gate. Was there movement on the other side? She waited another minute. Then she saw a side gate next to the kiosk had at some point been opened. It was ajar.

She slung on her shoulder bag, put her cell on MUTE, and opened the car door. The only sound was the hum of cars on the distant road. Heart pounding, she jogged across the street and slid through the gate’s narrow opening. And hesitated. Scanning, she noted the driveway up to the compound, the spruce trees on the left that spread high into the horizon, the buildings on the crest.

She glanced back at the open gate, decided not to close it, and walked tentatively forward.

And froze. Dressed in a white jumpsuit padded against the cold, a white ski mask covering his face, a man suddenly appeared from around the kiosk. He was armed with an M4, and from the expert way in which he held it, he knew exactly what to do with it.

I like the way author Gayle Lynds moves from narrative action to prose without allowing either to swamp the other. Books like this can be very much like movies, in that we are more interested in what someone is thinking and what they are doing, rather than what they have to say. That is why they are called movies and not talkies. The action will return to Iraq, and the story doesn’t suffer for it. I felt as though I was on a roller coaster of danger and double-dealing, never knowing when an assassin’s bullet or state-of-the-art steel-busting bomb was going to burst through the pages. There are the expected names for people up to no good like ‘The Carnivore’ and ‘The Padre.’ That was the reminder this is fiction. The villains in real life, as we know, actually have names like James, Timothy, and Charles. It always pleases me when I get a history lesson along with the action, and I got one here as well as a geography lesson. “Judd, I’m on a yacht in the Tigris. Al-Sabah’s men are setting up big-time mortars on the deck.” I was running along the banks of the river, trying to stay one step ahead of the bad stuff just like everyone else in the book. Great stuff!

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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.

Read all Dirk Robertson’s posts for Criminal Element.

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