7 September 2016

Red Right Hand

Image from www.hodder.co.uk
Red Right Hand (Michael Hendricks 2)
Chris Holm
Mulholland (Hodder), 8 September 2016
PB, 339pp
Source: Advance copy kindly provided by the publisher

When viral video footage from a terrorist attack in San Francisco reveals that a mob informant thought dead is still alive, FBI Special Agent Charlie Thompson knows just who to contact to save her witness from certain death: Michael Hendricks. He may be a hitman, but he's not a bad guy...

This is an explosive followup to The Killing Kind. Hendricks is a killer - though he only kills bad men, other assassins, who work for the mob.

They found out about him and sent one of their own to sort him out. Hendricks survived, but he lost his closest friend, Lester, and they tried to kill his family.

Now he wants revenge.

Jump forward a few months and at the start of this book things aren't going so well. Revenge may be a dish best served cold but it shouldn't be left to go mouldy. With no Lester, Hendricks lacks backup. With no new jobs he's running low on money. And now he's sidetracked by a terrorist attack which has San Francisco swarming like an overturned anthill.

A vital witness has surfaced and Hendricks is the only person who can protect him. The trouble is Hendricks is not only wanted by the mob but by the FBI too. Even so, Special Agent Charlie Thompson reaches out for help and we're on another roller-coaster of violence, betrayal, violence, and destruction. (Did I mention the violence?)

So far, that all sounds pretty normal for this kind of chase thriller. For me, though, what distinguishes Holm's books - and it's also true of his earlier, UF tinged Collector series - is the crossover he weaves between a straight thriller and a kind of modern noir. Hendricks is a bad man, acting for selfish motives - here revenge, in the previous book, money - but convincing himself that he's got a moral purpose. The roots of this purpose are hinted at as lying in the compromises and expediency of his Special Forces days, the way he believes he was used, and the dirty politics of modern war, undertaken and prolonged for the profit of private companies.

Whether to preserve that self-image of a clean(ish) man in a dirty world, or because he does, genuinely, have the vestiges of a moral code, Hendricks still observes some boundaries, kind of. Even when he takes out a whole opposition team, he tries only to kill the real bad guys. (The hired guns may end up beaten to pulp or with third degree burns, but they'll probably survive.)

In contrast, Hendricks's chief opponent here - who takes some time to emerge - delights in killing and torture, whether waterboarding a local imam for information or shooting a bystander just because he's in the way. He's a really nasty piece of work, the worse for being unpredictable and irrational, and the final confrontation is a wonderfully tense and sweaty piece of writing pitting the two men against each other.

It starts to become clear in this book that as well as the vendetta between Hendricks and the underworld Council, there are wider schemes in play bringing together his past in Special Forces, the terrorist threats of the present, and the shifty world of military contractors. Added up these point to a greater menace than simple organised crime - not least in the easy acquiescence of contractors to illegal means (the waterboarding and indeed, out and out murder) used to investigate the central crime.

While, obviously, not for those who want their books free of gore and violence this is an electrifying read, a book that pretty much demands your total attention till it's finished.

(Oh, and Hendricks does acquire support. The character who steps up to help him seems slightly improbable at first and I won't mention names because doing so would be a mild spoiler, but their relationship grows into the central hinge of the book, hopefully starting to heal the wound caused by Lester's dreadful end).

For more information on the book, see here.

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