If you believe violence never solves anything, writing a thriller is probably not the best use of your time. You need to write a quiet, tragic story about the necessity of always submitting to bullies.
I’m not sure that’s author Mark Dawson’s actual problem. But it’s my only real objection to his The Cleaner, the first novel in his John Milton series.
John Milton is, like so many thriller heroes these days, a professional assassin, part of a super-secret British Government operation, this one called Group Fifteen. John is their Number One, their top operative. But he’s burned out. In his last assignment, he allowed mercy to outweigh professionalism, and so was suspended.
Instead of facing discipline, he simply disappears, something he’s very good at. One day in London, he saves a young woman, Sharon, from suicide on the Underground. She confides her story at last. She’s a single mother. She’s already lost her oldest son to drug addiction; now her younger boy, Elijah, is flirting with involvement in a street gang. She doesn’t know how she can face it all.
John is immediately fascinated. This, he thinks, is a situation he can do something about. He has (and he actually uses these words) “a particular set of skills.” If he can help to save this boy, he imagines, get the villains off his back, it might help to ease his own karmic debt, get him some peace from his nightmares.
But even for John, who has faced some of the most remorseless terrorists in the world, it will be a challenge to face off against the inhuman brutality of London gang leaders and drug dealers.
If that wasn’t challenge enough, Group Fifteen is close on his heels now. Once they pinpoint his location, they will apply their own ruthless coercive tactics to the task of silencing John Milton forever.
The Cleaner is a very competent entry in the expanding field of thrillers about benevolent ex-operatives. The writing is good, the characters engaging. My problem with it was that the story’s resolution involves so much collateral damage that it left this reader wondering whether the whole effort was worth the price.
Well, I’ll see how the next book works. I actually bought The Cleaner some time back, and didn’t finish it. But then I bought the next book in the series (on a bargain deal) and figured I’d better read The Cleaner first. I’ll read Saint Death now and let you know how it goes with that one.
Cautions for violence and crude language.