Victor the assassin, my all time favorite literary sociopath and the purest anti-hero in thrillers, is thrown into a devious clusterf@#$ of chaos by author Tom Wood in – The Darkest Day (released 2015) – the fifth installment of the series. The stakes are higher here than the preceding two books of the series, and despite the shorter page count, the plot is more twisted and complex than you’d imagine.
With the opening scenes of the book at a cafe in Prague, we first encounter Victor, the anonymous, amoral, and logical assassin of the series checking on his target from a good distance. The killer’s perspective about those around him, his observations, instincts, interests, and the details he pays attention to are written in a sharp prose but with a refined literary manner. It’s a delight to read into Victor’s constantly analytical and sociopathic mind which I consider an intellectual form of escapist entertainment.
In a series of seemingly unrelated moves around Prague, Victor sets up the deceptions and red herrings to terminate his target – an exiled royal Arab prince who’s funding terrorists in between his luxurious vacations with hookers – but finds his target killed by someone else who seemed to know too much about his own plan. For an ever paranoid professional killer like Victor who’s only in the killing business for the money, anonymity is a prize he’d kill to protect and that couldn’t hit harder through the diabolical events of this book. Victor survives his encounter with a mysterious female assassin – Raven, and heads over to scare his client into revealing the truth.
This eventually leads Victor to an American black ops unit, mostly made up of former ISA operators, who hire him to eliminate Raven. Caught in a web of lies and manipulations from many sides he doesn’t yet comprehend, Victor’s bloody journey leads to getting himself framed in a false flag terror attack to start a new war. The series has repeatedly shown that forces who trick its antiheroic protagonist by using him as a pawn only to then wipe him away as a loose end, will never be able to survive him. Yet, like the title suggests, the situation gets very dark for Victor the villains get the upper hand many times.
The locations move from Prague to Virginia to Ireland and the Dominican Republic and finally to a city wide blackout in NYC which leads to night long brutally chaotic John Wick style rampages throughout the city. Victor, a man who prefers to be a loner without getting involved in any personal situations, never has or had a real sense of heroism, and lives a practical yet grim life that’s devoid of all emotions and morality. He prides himself on it, but that’s questioned when he’s forced to prevent a false flag US homegrown terror attack not out of his goodness but because he wants to retain his anonymity and doesn’t wish to be hunted for something he didn’t do.
In terms of the character interactions, this is one of the best in the series. Victor’s interactions with his tailor is amazingly fun, but makes him despicable and makes the reader sympathize with the aging tailor. His interactions with intelligence officers show how much they fear him and the lengths he goes to outsmart them justifies their fears, making anyone a fool for underestimating him. A scene where Victor gets into an idle taxi to evade pursuing law enforcement officers results in an amazing conversation which gives the readers a throwback at the events he survived in book three – The Game – and has a surprising moment where Victor gives the taxidriver his real name which may always be out of the readers’ reach.
Raven, who’s almost the co-protagonist and a frenemy for Victor, is introduced with her deadly and cunning presence right at the first chapter, and gives Victor the most difficult time of his life. She’s in many ways a mirror to Victor, like a female version of many qualities about him, in their operational methods, tricks, their lives and their minds. She’s the most interesting character in the series, next to Victor, to the extent her existence intimidates Victor into eliminating her as a potential threat in the final scenes. That twisted scene is brilliant, while making him hateable, and yet shows his nature which cannot change. Though Raven and Victor could be perfect for each other, they’re both too twisted to peacefully co-exist, maybe with any human. I do know that her character isn’t exactly dead as she returns in book 7 of the series.
Without giving away most of the major plot spoilers, apart from what I’ve already let slip, I can say the action is on the best level in the genre. The action scenes are written in a way that appears realistic, and even intellectual at times, but sometimes goes far into the crazy John Wick style escapism. From a brutal martial arts fight with machetes and AK wielding gangsters in the Dominican Republic to an all out rampaging series of gunfights on the dark streets of New York City, a ruthlessly dark scene where Victor creatively uses a hand-held shower head to kill a government black ops officer to an old school espionage scene of E&E where Victor fools a whole group of covert agents on a crowded bridge in Ireland while snatching their boss, and intriguingly descriptive tradecraft at the MET museum to a climatic tactical shootout at an aircraft runway, the entire book sizzles with the amazingly brutal fun that fans of the action thriller genre will love.
While the protagonist remains the best professional in the killing business, the methods he uses to survive can make him more monstrous than most villains, but he’s still an addictive character within this series. Tom Wood shows the moral realities of being an assassin with the damaged and psychologically twisted character of Victor, while keeping him an anti-hero without any voluntary shred of heroism. I highly respect that as most popular anti heroes are too heroic to be considered as real anti heroes. Victor isn’t a villain by any means, but he certainly isn’t meant for people who want heroes in their stories. The characters, the action, the tradecraft, the details, and the web of deceptions are all brutally intense and deviously twisted on a brilliant level while also working a good escapist, addictive piece of awesome entertainment.