Several years ago there was an actor, a former bodybuilder, who starred in some B-grade movies. While these films had made money, they really hadn't taken his career to the next level. Then his agent sent him a script, a science fiction story about a man who is sent into the past to prevent an assassination. Would he be interested in playing the hero? The bodybuilder was muscular, but he wasn't stupid; the part he really wanted, he told the agent, was that of the assassin. The agent pitched this to the director, James Cameron, and the bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, became The Terminator and a star.
Let's face it, in movies and in literature the villain is often the most interesting character. Look at John Milton's Paradise Lost the devil gets all the good lines. So it is in Daniel Silva's new novel, The Mark of the Assassin, a thriller set against the background of modern-day geopolitics and the covert war waged by intelligence agencies behind the scenes. A war that is suddenly made hotter by the actions of one man, a freelance killer for hire with a trademark signature three bullets in the face.
CIA operative Michael Osbourne is drawn into this war when a jumbo jet is shot down over Long Island. A middle-east expert, Osbourne is called in when the body of a known terrorist is found near the crash site with three bullet holes in its face. The evidence points to a Palestinian splinter group, but Osbourne isn't so sure. What follows is an investigation that takes him to three continents as he unravels a startling conspiracy, and puts him on a collision course with the assassin known only as October.
The Mark of the Assassin shines is in its portrayal of October, otherwise known as Jean-Paul Delaroche, a deep-cover Soviet killer without portfolio. At least without a killer's portfolio. Delaroche does have a portfolio of sorts he is also a painter who takes his art seriously. Indeed, there are many layers to Delaroche, and I liked the fact that as many things as Silva shows us, we never quite find out what makes the assassin tick. The one gripe I have with this book, and this is really not against Daniel Silva specifically, but to the authors of all thrillers, is the need to make up what I call the "Presidential cast of characters," that is "President Smith," "Secretary of State Jones," etc. If they're peripheral characters, write 'em out, I say. Use real politicians. It worked marvelously for Frederick Forsythe in The Day of the Jackal. It could have worked here. At any rate, the real story in The Mark of the Assassin is the assassin himself. Reviewed by James Neal Webb.