The Final Hour

Written by Tom Wood — The man known only as Victor is a professional assassin. He has worked off the books for a number of countries’ intelligence agencies, and also in the private sector, often for a shadowy organisation that he calls the Consortium. He has no idea what they call themselves, nor who their members are, but does know that they are entirely ruthless, and have a limitless ambition for power.

Victor doesn’t concern himself with moral questions about his work, tells himself no lies about how he is a good person underneath, or that he will leave the profession one day. His only concern is to stay alive, and to do that he must guard his identity. Only logic, and never emotional factors, is allowed to influence his judgement.

One year ago he poisoned an assassin sent to murder him; since then he has been looking for a way to strike back, but cannot find a place to start. Meanwhile, another operative called Raven has been recovering from her injuries and trying to keep herself alive as the Consortium looks to tie up any loose ends. She barely escaped from a hospital in London after a killer impersonating a physiotherapist managed to get past the police officers protecting her.

Like Victor, Raven has tried to sever any links with people she previously cared for, so that none can be used against her. Unfortunately, they discovered her foster brother living in Ireland, and he’s being held hostage in order to force her to take on another job. Unlike Victor, Raven is not above asking others for help – though obviously a cold individual, Wood gives her a little more humanity and emotional need than Victor – and she can accept that she can’t save her brother alone.

Across the pond, in Washington, Agent Antonio Alvarez has been newly promoted to Director of the National Intelligence Agency, and reports directly to the president. In a previous role, Alvarez was investigating Victor, believing that the hitman had killed a CIA agent. Alvarez’s superior Proctor derailed the investigation to protect himself from exposure. It seems the Agency was using Victor, and others like him, for extra-judicial executions. Now Proctor has retired and Alvarez not only plans to bring down Victor, but also Proctor and his ally in the Agency, Janice Muir.

Proctor’s only gambit is to use Muir to contact Victor, via his handler in MI6, to warn him of the danger, and in the process save himself. But Victor doesn’t trust anyone, and hunted from all sides he and Raven will have to learn to trust each other as the action moves from London, to Italy, to America, and finally to Ireland.

The Final Hour is the seventh Victor novel but my first. It requires a little bit of close reading early on to understand events that must have happened in previous novels, but it doesn’t take long to get up to speed. The plot is convoluted, but can be followed, and there is plenty of action and twists. The drama is driven by the action and the peril the two protagonists face, rather than by emotion. When the lead characters are cold, calculating killers who keep there emotions in check, it is rather hard to provide satisfying emotional drama. This doesn’t seem to be a failing on the author’s part, but more a limitation of this particular sub-genre.

However, if we are to hold The Final Hour to the highest standards then Donald E Westlake, writing as Richard Stark, created a protagonist every bit as aloof and ruthless as Victor. Yet in the Parker novels he did find human drama, either through Parker’s co-conspirators or his antagonists, and also used humour to much better effect.

If The Final Hour sounds like your thing, take a look at our review of one of the summer’s hottest thrillers The Marsh King’s Daughter. Or, for an existentialist consideration of the hitman predicament, try The Killer is Dying by James Sallis.

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CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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