Book review: ‘The Rescue – A Ghost Assassin Affair’ by John J. Higgins

The Rescue A Ghost Assassin Affair by John J. Higgins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


‘The Rescue’ has a great opener: for one scene at least, we are rooting for Chet even though he’s an assassin/hired gun. We also get an intriguing glimpse of his origins, and the history of the organisation he works for.

But we get ALL THE CLICHES – ‘instant’ romantic interest for the hero, ‘sacrificed’ past love as his motivation, and Russian villains (one of whom even uses the title ‘Comrade’). As if that’s not enough, all the women are stunning-looking – and described in great detail, unlike the men (we’re only at page 16 when we get the first ‘her breasts’). The main character’s love interest (well, bed interest) is a Romance author: anyone who writes – or reads – Romance knows that (wink) we women look, too. Give us something to look at! And he’s blond, not blonde: the latter is a descriptor for a female.

Staying on that subject, the ‘homeless guy’s musings about Sophie in the closing scenes, considering what we learn about him in the end, make no logical sense.

The book’s best feature is the interweaving of scenes, alternating the action which creates and maintains tension, with the main character’s ingenious use of weapons, and resourcefulness in tight corners making us want to root for him because he’s on his own in this, and the underdog.

What ruins it is everything that happens in between: the dialogue is flat, with all the characters – even though they range in background from an engineering professor through a ‘homeless bum’ to a bunch of hired guns, all speaking with pretty-much the same ‘voice’. This includes characters who, the situation tells us, are speaking in languages other than English. At the very least couldn’t some phrases or idioms from Russian or Polish have been dropped in, to add realism and character? The last Russian hired gun saying ‘I am it’ is particularly stiff: this isn’t a phrase in Russian.

In addition, we get very little in the way of proper reactions by any of the characters to their sudden changes in fortune (I’ll not say more because Spoilers) – just terse phrases like ‘she was relieved’ or ‘Vadim was pleased’. Often their ‘inner dialogue’ over-compensates for this: ‘he did not like the sound of Vadim ‘taking care’ of them. He isn’t kidnapping them. He intends to kill them,’ when that’s already evident from the situation.

This makes the main characters a bit flat; but the villains are positively one-dimensional. The FSB wanting at one point to kill everybody involved; the constant references to ‘the Mob’ or ‘Mob connections’ – nobody with genuine organised crime connections would refer to it that way: if they mentioned it at all it would be ‘associates’ or ‘business,’ and if talking about rivals they’d be ‘hooligans’ or similar.

Vadim is obviously pure evil, but this would work far better if any of the other villains/Russians were brought out as characters – even if this were only one scene of them drinking together, for example.

Their dialogue is riddled with ‘as you know, Bob…’-type exposition. Similarly, the French representative describing the deficiencies of his own country’s project is blatantly unrealistic.

Chet doesn’t seem to understand their language, referring to it as ‘Russian dialect’: an agent who speaks Russian would either name the accent or dialect, e.g. “heavily-accented Russian – Chechen” (or wherever), or just think ‘Russian’.

And considering what he’s supposed to have been taught, and who he’s operating for, his attitude (‘Never sure how drugs affect the Russians: sometimes they become more agreeable … other times they become more belligerent and attack, feeling even less pain.’) towards them as almost sub-human jars somewhat. We’re supposed to like the guy – or at least identify with his aims.

Coupled with this, his mentor’s assessment of the way the world situation would evolve is woefully inadequate – considering the USSR as the only source of villains. Didn’t they consider China? Or the Middle East, the Heroin trade, or indeed their own country’s excesses?

If you like a well-woven plot, with plenty of action, ingenuity and international intrigue, with villains who are just plain evil and resourceful good guys who have the world’s best interest at heart, then this is for you. If, though, you also want believable characters who speak and react like real people, and a tale not riddled with clichés and prejudices, then a 1960s James Bond film probably has more to offer on that score.




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