Derek Haas is the co-screenwriter of the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma and his debut novel, standing at just over 200 pages, is one lean, muscular and taut page-turner. Being a screenwriter, one can distinctively observe a pumped-up B-grade visual style in his prose. Think of this like Leon: The Professional (1994) sans the emotional heft and John Wick (2014) but with lesser guile and slick.
“A natural killer,” his mentor—a middleman named Vespucci—said he was. He proved it with his first professional hit: a Fifth Circuit Court judge in Boston, executed with a sheet of Saran Wrap in the stairwell of her own courthouse. He’s proved his merit often, usually with a Glock semiautomatic, but he’s improvised too, with his bare hands, the heel of a shoe, knives, even a sewing machine. He is the consummate assassin, at the top of his form, immune to the psychological strains of his chosen profession. He is what the Russians call a Silver Bear. He calls himself Columbus. It’s the name Vespucci gave him, ten years ago, when he discovered a dark, new world of fences, clients, marks, jobs, jack. Not that his real name meant much to him anyway. He never knew his father or his mother, a prostitute who became dangerously involved back in the seventies with an earnest young congressman named Abe Mann, then a rising star in the Democratic Party. The magnetic Abe Mann has since become the Speaker of the House. He is currently running for the Democratic nomination in an exhausting presidential campaign, weaving his way across the country. Columbus is not far behind. But as he pieces together his past and prepares the seamless assassination of his mark, the criminal underworld he has always ruled begins unraveling violently around him.
The thing I like about this is the very lean “take no prisoners” prose written entirely from the assassin’s point of view. Every word counted and amounted to more than most authors tend to land in twice the pages. I also like how it segues into flashbacks rather deftly. The purpose of the flashbacks is to peel layers from the assassin, linking the past to the present. The book reads like I am watching a pulsating action thriller which includes highlights like quick reversals, kickass action and a jaw-dropping denouement. It also manages to get inside the mind of a Silver Bear, the term given by Russians to killers who never miss with their bullets. It is what it is – a quick and no frills entertaining read that isn’t high art, and sometimes that is so refreshing.