Page 45 Review by Stephen
A book so big that you could brain someone with it.
Slick and intense European thriller in which we get inside the head of a hitman who seems so disengaged from humanity that it's all facts and figures, an endless stream of self-justification for being a cool-hearted killer without a care in the world.
"Don't talk to me about justice or morals. Even God himself I wouldn't listen to. Not with His track record. I take orders from no one. I report to no one. I have a single motive for what I'm doing: money... I help rich people kill one another. Poor people, they can't afford me. They handle it themselves. And they end up in jail for life."
Normally he researches then executes his assignments calmly, methodically, all around the world. Patience is the one virtue he would own to possessing, but this time his target hasn't even shown, and it's starting to unsettle him...
Like CRIMINAL, this gets right under the skin of the individual in question who makes more than a few valid points about our own culpabilities, whilst the art is lush with jagged jungle leaves, classily coloured and it splinters expressionistically as the pressure builds to force this most dispassionate of men to make a critical blunder. At which point everything unravels, and he's forced from his natural comfort zone into an environment he does not control.
Of book two, I wrote:
Welcome to the return of the ruminative assassin. Here he's particularly preoccupied with the disadvantages of dying in your sleep. And whom it is wise to hang out with.
"The hard part is not the loneliness. The hard part is choosing the right people to have around you, when you finally decide to have people around you. Loneliness offers guarantees that vanish as soon as you try and trust someone. Stepping away from it is running a risk. Especially for me."
You never do know whom he should trust. It's a source of suspense which builds and builds.
Previously even the man he'd always placed the greatest trust in, long-time accountant Edward, turned out to be capable of treachery - and pretty stupid into the bargain. Edward had been the conduit in a contract on a man called Martini, and then gone one further and tried to take out The Killer himself. It didn't really work out for Edward, no.
Now lying low in luxurious seclusion, our anti-hero is visited by a man called Mariano, god-son to a Columbian drug baron called Padrino. Seems Martini was one of three men Padrino had set up in high society Paris in order to distribute his wares. The way Padrino sees it, taking out Martini has caused him some serious inconvenience even though The Killer saw the man under police surveillance and may have done Padrino a favour in silencing him. Unconvinced, Padrino insists The Killer accepts contracts of his own in exchange for forgiveness. It remains a lucrative deal so although the worryingly talkative and inexperienced Mariano is foisted upon him, The Killer accepts.
From Buenos Aires to New York City things go (sort of) well until, while cruising down the Amazon, there's a vicious attack back home on his lover. Instinct leads him to question whether it was Padrino, but that simply doesn't add up and The Killer hates it when things don't add up. He doesn't like coincidences, either, like the assassination of a second of those three drug dealers in Paris, or being befriended by a cop who's being investigated for police brutality. Who's after him now, and what connection does it have to Martini and Edward?
There, I think I've accurately set the scene whilst leading you all astray! Your turn now to grow as paranoid on The Killer's behalf as I was this sunny Sunday afternoon.
That you will all fear for this hitman's safety is a telling testament to Matz's skills as a writer. The Killer's cogitations on his career and craft and its implication for life in general play a substantial part in this. They're well reasoned and betray a heart he denies having, as do his new sentiments towards the woman he's chosen to trust. I think you'll like the cop too.
As to Luc Jacamon, his colouring has always impressed me no end, particularly when it comes to the dappled shadows under a boulevard of trees, and I love the way that there's this constant presence throughout, even outlined in negative on the side of a building, of an Orinoco Crocodile - the very essence of patient, predatory guile. He excels at details others would never think to incorporate like scaffolding, netted in green, supporting the side of already impressive edifices. There's a gorgeous sense of space no matter what he's asked to draw, in whichever country, and there's plenty of globe-trotting to be done here. I'm an enormous fan of the wit-ridden 100 BULLETS, but it can become bogged down by words whereas Matz never allows any self-indulgence to crowd out Luc Jacamon, maintaining a perfect equilibrium for a pleasurable read as smooth as the operator himself.
Of books three and four, I typed:
"Poor Mexico - so far from God and so close to the USA."
- Diaz Ordiz, Mexican President, 1960
And so we start afresh with the titular assassin three years into retirement, lazing on the beaches of Venezuela. Lazing - that really doesn't sound like him, does it? On the other hand he might well have stayed there had Mariano not sent fresh clients his way. Maybe they were the itch he couldn't help scratching as they fed him a succession of contracts, one after the other.
The first seemed relatively straightforward: a Spanish oil broker living in Venezuela but thankfully staying in Mexico. Then an assistant manager of the Venezuelan National Bank: a little close to home but another easy target because riding a scooter in Caracas is tantamount to suicide anyway. But it's the third target which begins to rattle our unflappable killer who hasn't been as calculating as he should have been. Her name is Madre Luisa, much loved in Latin America as a nun working the shunned slums of Columbia. He's basically been asked to off Mother Teresa. Why?
With the help of Mariano and his Padrino, the connections become as clear as they prove crude. This is Venezuela, after all, the third-largest supplier of the USA's oil. Its President Hugo Chavez is determined to nationalise the industry. Unfortunately that doesn't change anything except the likely identity of his clients and their potential reach: if he doesn't kill Madre Luisa someone else will, and then they'll come looking for him.
As topical right now as I'm afraid it's likely to prove for quite some time, events spiral out of control on a national level and when Cuba's interest is revealed the cold cogitations inevitably take a turn for the political. Here's our man in Havana:
"There were fewer people sleeping outside and dying of hunger in the streets of Havana than in New York or Bombay. Not bad for a country strangled by American embargos for more than forty years. They weren't rolling in dough and might not eat their fill every day, but they weren't America's whore or flunky, or anyone else's and they knew it.
"Why is Fidel criticised? 'Cause Cuba isn't a democracy? What country is? The USA and Europe are in name only. And they impose their so-called superiority on the rest of the world. Easy enough when you rape and pillage, when you grow rich off other men's work, when you don't respect the rules you force on them. Bolivar said in 1823: "Providence seems to have destined the United States to rain all sorts of calamities on South America in the name of liberty." Seeing that far ahead is really something...
"Castro's funny too. He once said Christ's sermons would make for good radical socialism, whether or not you were a believer. At the UN, 184 out of 192 countries voted to lift the embargo on Cuba. Only Israel, the US, the Marshall Islands, and Palau voted no... and won. Democracy in action."
There's plenty more where that came from in a thriller whose killer has much more to say about foreign intervention and genocide throughout the ages and across the globe. You might say it's his specialist subject and once more it's that part of his nature he denies having that lands him in trouble: he can't help but question everything he's told, everything he sees around him, and in spite of his protestations he does actually care. In his line of work, nobody likes a troublemaker.
It's the light that readers comment on most. Whether it's the dappled shade at a corner café or looking up from the forest floor to the canopy above, the foliage growing fainter as more sunlight shines through, the colouring's a joy. Plenty of Cuban sunsets this time, and Miami's glorious aquamarine coastline is yet another of Jacamon's flourishes which will have you gasping. His mirrored sunglasses are out of this world - you'd think the paper had been chemically treated. Also, I love the way a puff of dusty sand, kicked up by the Cuban heels of our Killer's cowboy boots as he strides across the Mexican desert, curls into the clouds on the very next panel.
Further "negotiations" will eventually take him to London and Paris where, of course, he will bide his time in boulevard bars, musing on human nature.
"Optimism can sometimes seem like naïveté, but pessimism is often a fruitless affectation. I'm all for clear-sightedness. Not wearing blinders, not getting hoodwinked by pretenders and received ideas.
"Meanwhile, I wait and watch. I want to see what's coming."
The fifth hardcover is reprinted here too.