Long considered cool, distant, and absolutely reliable, an American-born hit man, working throughout Europe, grows increasingly distracted and begins to develop an unexpected passion for architecture and art while engaged in his deadly profession. Although he welcomes this energizing break from his routine, he comes to realize that it is an unwise trajectory for a man in his business, particularly when he is sent on the most difficult job of his career.
Set in London, Paris, New York, and Barcelona, Calling Mr. King is at once a colorful suspense tale, laced with dark humor, and a psychological self-portrait of a character who is attempting, against the odds, to become someone else.
--Calling Mr. King
by Ronald de Feo
Copyright © August 30, 2011 by Ronald de Feo
Published by Other Press, New York
“Mr. King,” as he is called, is an assassin, one of the best in his field. He has a job in Paris, but is having a hard time finishing it. He’s uncharacteristically distracted, following his target around the city for days, wondering exactly what the target is doing. He’s had several opportunities to finish the job, but keeps delaying until finally, after a call from his superiors, gets the job done and returns to his base in London.
While he’s waiting for another assignment, he begins to explore his adopted home city. He becomes fascinated by the architecture, specifically Georgian, and begins to research it. Perhaps some day he’ll own a Georgian home. But in the midst of his exploration, he’s given another assignment in Derbyshire. He’s reluctant—he’s really getting into his research—but does as they order. Unfortunately, again, he’s distracted. He completes the job, but is forced to take out a witness. His superiors are not pleased with this and decide to send him to New York City for a while until things calm down.
“Sir Peter Chilton,” as he’s now calling himself, finds himself on vacation in New York City and has no idea what to do with himself. He begins to explore the city, much as he did London, and continues his research into Georgian architecture. He likes his new identity as “Sir Peter Chilton,” gentleman, researcher, explorer, art lover, but when called, he obediently flies to Barcelona. There he waits and, true to form, begins exploring and researching Spanish architecture and the city of Barcelona itself. But when it comes time to finally do the job he’s been sent to do, can he bring himself to complete his mission?
Everything written between these two events was a waste of words.
There are long, long, long narrative passages with very little action, just details about the narrator’s wanderings around Paris, London, New York City and Barcelona that, quite frankly, were boring. While he’s wandering around these cities, he begins to rethink his life, and about what he could make of himself if given the opportunity, but these reflections are buried so deep within the narrative/travelogue that they’re hard to find.
When he was sent to New York to lay low after the assignment turned bad, I expected him to be on alert for a possible hit on himself—an assassin that’s losing his touch becomes a liability to his employers and those employers don’t have very nice retirement packages—but no one comes after him. There is one moment where he spies a suspicious black van, but it amounts to nothing. He meets a woman, but aside from a phone call late in the story, that potential relationship goes nowhere and serves no purpose.
When the narrator (which by now, if you haven’t guessed, goes unnamed until the very end of the story) is sent to Barcelona to do a job there, he’s not happy because he wants to go back to London, but obediently goes to Spain. When he fails to do the job there, his employer sends assassins after him. This is the point where the story finally hints that it may be getting to some action, but aside from taking out the first couple assassins, nothing really happens and the story is over.
Given the main character's profession, I was expecting more of a plot/action oriented novel. I was very hard-pressed to find a plot and there was very little action. If you're looking for plot, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a travelogue and deep introspection, this is your book.
At the very end, there’s a nod back to the man the narrator was hunting in Paris, which I found to be an interesting little move on the author’s part, but I found very little else in this story interesting.
I give this story ONE STAR.
I received an Advance Uncorrected Proof from NetGalley.