Initial response on closing the book: Had me guessing all the way through. Not a ‘pacey’ thriller, more a masterclass in the subtle creation of tension. Switching perspectives and an almost claustrophobically narrow focus drive the tension ever higher. I was delighted with the twisty ending.
It wasn’t every day you had the chance to track down the man who’d killed your mother.
In 1964, Andrew Combs’ mother is killed in front of him. His father Harry vanishes soon afterwards. Twenty-six years later Andrew wants revenge. There’s only one way he can let go of his past and become the man he wants to be: track down and kill his mother’s murderer. His father.
But while Andrew thinks he knows what happened all those years ago, the truth is far darker. For Harry Combs turns out to be a man of many secrets.
As shadowy figures from Harry’s past threaten his life, and Andrew inches closer to killing him, the two men find themselves playing a very dangerous game of life and death. And only one of them can survive.
A brilliant thriller with the pace and tension of Mark Billingham and the laconic style of Ramond Chandler.
I’d never read any of Jahn’s work before but I greatly enjoyed this novel. I loved that the novel’s style was also ‘gentle’ with no excess anywhere – in tone, pace or phrasing. As with all thrillers, it’s difficult to go too much into plot and character, as I do not want to give spoilers, so please forgive me the lack of concrete detail.
However, as you can clearly tell from the blurb, the tight focus I reference above is trained on Harry Combs, the ‘gentle assassin’ of the title, and his adult son David Combs, tracking him down to seek revenge. I appreciated the shifts in perspective – and was intrigued to find that I wasn’t clearly on one side or the other, so Jahn had successfully enabled me to empathise with both parties – and welcomed the addition of the occasional flashback to the night that started it all, when David was a baby and his mother was shot. I also thought it was a nice touch that the few secondary characters also contributed to the confusion over who to trust and whose motives were more admirable/forgivable.
I read that the author has worked in film and TV and I think that might be why the book has a very ‘filmed’ feel: scenes are used quite similarly to how a film works and it was easy to imagine a camera panning across a scene or cutting to a flashback. The writing style is quite detached, leaving you to engage for yourself rather than being overly emotive. The novel overall is definitely a great example of ‘less is more’, in action, pace and writing.
All in all, I enjoyed this as a tightly controlled and tense thriller. Fans of action-on-every-page may conceivably be disappointed, but if you like close and detailed character work and tension through conflict of interests, this is definitely recommended.