The Darkest Day
A novel by Tom Wood
Book review by Jules Brenner
Signet, released 9/1/15, 448 pp., $9.99
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My introduction to Victor the Assassin was Wood's 2013 thriller "The Enemy,". It started with the gunman (paying off a debt to the CIA) sighting through his scope. He's not aiming at the street-level doorway which will be his victim's kill zone in a matter of minutes, but around and up -- at the windows above ground. What makes him freeze is something he can barely believe and react to: another gunman, aiming at him!

But, though momentarily galvanized, Victor does react. First. And, thereby shows what he's got and steps onto the stage of supremacy in the art of assassination. This guy's not just good, with reflexes like a gazelle, Victor is smart. In a vocation that doesn't boast many elderly operatives, he survives by planning, anticipation of his enemy's moves, mind control, discipline and, perhaps paramount, a high degree of paranoia -- something that causes him never to travel anywhere in a straight line, whether on foot or public conveyance.

These attribute will keep him alive.

But, it's not like he's not constantly challenged.

And, so, he's lured into a trap by his employer. Believing that he'll find a Turkish banker who finances terrorists and a terrorist middleman at a meeting in the basement of a disused office building, Victor is to kill them both and make it look like a deal gone wrong. But it turns out to be an ambush. Stepping out of the shadows, another assassin with deadly accuracy and tactical genius to match his own, shoots at him and barely misses in the obscurity of dim shadows. What's immediately clear is that she's there to take him out.

First twist.

One of author Tom Wood's strong points is choreographing battles to the death between close to equal antagonists. If not equal by their skill, then by their numbers -- and just this side of plausability. In this case, it's one-on-one and he barely manages to stay alive. The only thing that allows him an escape is his ability to recognize his enemy's fierce approximation to his own level and anticipating her moves.

Then he goes after the traitorous financier who hired him, along with his quick-as-a-devil rival -- a freelancer named Raven.

When he finally meets her again, it's more on her terms than his -- in public and without guns. Which, of course, doesn't make either of them less deadly. There's more to the meetup than her attempt at his life. She wants Victor to know that their combat was as much a surprise to her as it was to him. Shooting to kill was simple self-preservation. She convinces him that, as pros, she holds no grudge and neither should he. They need to partner against a ruthless common enemy.

Twist #2.

The man who paid them to kill each other knows full well they're after him. He puts his grand scheme into action, blacking out the entire city while he puts teams of vicious ex-military trackers on their trail before his ex-employees find a way to reach him.

After the longest, most hazardous night in crime literature, you reach a climax that will have you holding your breath. This is a darkness enveloping the longest chase I've read (about half the book) sustained by action sequences designed to probe all the variations of an assassin's bag of tricks. The idea is to hold you at an uncanny level of suspense, but I found the extent of the tension draining and the body count suffocating. Alas, you know what they say about less being more.

Despite that, Wood has proven that he has plenty of ammo in his literary clip to maintain his protagonist among the elite pros in the contract killing business. Victor's thought processes make an anti-hero someone with whom we can identify while he kills bad guys for income and our entertainment.

If you don't yet own The Darkest Day and would like to purchase it (usually at a sizable discount), click here.