By Phillip Drayer Duncan. Cover art by Mitchell Bentley.
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Working as a corporate assassin was supposed to be Brandon’s dream job, but so far it just sucks!
His boss hates him, he’s behind on his bills, he’s the laughing stock of the entire assassins’ guild, and now everyone is trying to kill him. Friends can’t be trusted, inter-office relationships are frowned upon, the dental plan isn’t great, and you might get stabbed in the back at any moment, figuratively or literally… But that’s just part of the job when you work for Assassins Incorporated.
ASSASSINS INCORPORATED boasts the sort of writing that avid readers crave to come across between the covers of a book. It’s a blessed sensation, to say the least, and when it comes from a book you picked up and dived into cold, it’s even better. Actually, in my experience, such experiences come from unexpected quarters. Not that I was expecting ill of Mr. Phillip Drayer Duncan, but how often do you pick up a book - except when it’s a tried and true author or a re-read you already know you’ll love - and have it just grab you by the lapels, slam you into the lockers and throw you headlong into whatever athletic game we’re using as an analogy here.
I didn’t know anything at all about this when I started. I was at a con, had a stack of books in my hands, went to my hotel room, grabbed the first one that came to hand - BOOM! - here it is, same night, and I’m writing my review of the book. I needed a nap and dinner, so I didn’t technically read it in one sitting, but for all intents and purposes … Whenever I was in the room with the book and free to read, I read. I blew through it fast, too. It doesn’t matter that it’s a novella that “clocks in” at just shy of 100 pages any more than it mattered that Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend was a shortish book when I tore through it in one sitting. I am reminded of that book, in fact, because it’s the first parallel reading experience - not in terms of content, to which we’ll get shortly - that comes to mind.
Pondering the hook, line and sinker Duncan used on me right from Page 1 of ASSASSINS INCPORORATED, I quickly called to mind my experience with Matheson’s novel. It, too, is a grabber with a grip from Hell. I knew what genre that book was when I started, even if that ill prepared me for the cerebro-visceral philosophical horror novel about to unfold for me. But I really didn’t know anything about ASSASSINS INCORPORATED. I suppose the cover should have tipped me off we were in sci-fi territory but it just as easily could have been something comic-booky or one of those super-tech-in-the-now books. It’s terrific art and once you read the book and know what scene to which it refers, the art becomes even cooler. It vividly brings to pictoral life the rip-roaring story crammed into these pages. There’s a ton of tale here, even if it’s a short novel, and it streaks from one end of the galaxy to the other.
When it started, as noted, I wasn’t aware where I was genre-wise, but I was hooked even before I got to the graph that clued me in to the intergalactic nature of this book. Duncan’s cinematic storytelling is perfect for this yarn. Swift prose, descriptive but lucidly so, not down-bogging, creates sharp action tableaus the brain easily sorts out. One isn’t slowed down, trying to sort out what the hell just happened. I like good action writing but it’s not always easy to do and I am duly impressed by this author’s sharp ability to convey busy, swashbuckling, laser shooting, high-tech blade-wielding, leaping and dodging, cars flying, spaceships bursting apart at the seams, and more. From epic space battles to up-close hands-on combat, Duncan ably conveys the visual components with balanced prose that keeps both sleekness and apt descriptiveness in check with each other. Pacing doesn’t sacrifice detail and detail doesn’t drag things down. His characterizations are also excellent. Once he tricks you into thinking the first person you meet is the main character - I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers, thank you very much - and you realize you’ve been tricked, your feelings about the main character shift rather rapidly from suspicion to welcoming. Brandon, a.k.a. a couple other names (you have to read to find out, sorry), is a member of a legal assassins guild, hence the novella’s moniker, and when he completes a major contract only to discover that the form of currency his contractors employ is … inconvenient, to say the least, and fairly useless as a form of payment, he finds things going downhill rather rapidly. Especially when he finds out just who the latest hit target is. And it’s a big hit, too, tons of money and open to all, not just the guild. A major event nearly without precedent in the modern (for these sci-fi folks) world. And it overturns everything in an already deteriorating life - or at least a life that’s failing to materialize properly. Finding himself part of what might be the biggest chase within many light years and unable to know who to turn to or trust, Brandon embarks on an impossible quest with tons of enemies and few, if any, allies.
The technology augments all this action nicely. Avoiding the temptation to go too hard on the “hard sf”, Duncan nevertheless tosses in nuggets of tech that are interesting and, while sometimes more space opera than sci-fi, are nevertheless not inducing of incredulity and, what’s more, are even more interesting by dint of Duncan’s casual, almost off-hand explanation of the tech that both brings it to mind with crystal clarity but which also leaves much to the reader’s imagination. Touch of William Gibson, anyone? (Not that this is cyberpunk; it’s not, even if it has some nuances of said subgenre.)
Surprises explode out of the pages with nearly every chapter, it seems. Duncan’s brief, punchy chapters are flip-inducing as the eyes devour the words and demand the fingers to turn, turn, fucking TURN! Echoing James Pattersons’ short-chapter, fingers-on-fire writing style, Duncan’s storytelling keeps it coming, maintaining reader interest with whatever aweomeness is currently unfolding as well as with the exciting promise of what’s around the corner, on the next page, in the next chapter. Or, what’s in the next book by Duncan, for that matter. Yes, he’s one of those authors who, after the first book of theirs one has read, has convinced you to seek out his other titles. At this point, if I was to stumble onto a Phillip Drayer Duncan book in a book shop, I’d snatch it up. How many writers do you know who can prove themselves in less than 100 pages? Add Duncan to the short list.
— Book Devil