The Shot, by Philip Kerr

1960, and Tom Jefferson, a shooter for hire, is asked to report on the feasibility of assassinating Fidel Castro. Well, that's how the story starts anyway, but there are multiple interests and twists in this thriller, which which has various members of the mafia, the government, and the police, trying to arrange, thwart, or discover what Tom is actually up to.

I was looking at a movie tie-in version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the bookshop, trying to work out who the actress was that played Lisbeth (but the writing on the cover was too small). Someone next to me said how good the book was and pointed out a Philip Kerr book which was a couple of shelves up, saying that he was a really good author. I made a mental note of the name, and so when I went past the charity shop a bit later I checked and found this book, so thought I'd give it a go.

From the title of the book and the time when it was set, I assumed it might be an alternate history of the JFK assassination and to be honest wasn't that optimistic. But it turned out to be loads better than I'd expected and I finished the book in a couple of days - it was a really good read.

The plot, while a bit far-fetched, was gripping but what made it special was the quality of writing, which was much better than your standard thriller - maybe not quite as good as John Sandford, but not bad. Some of the dialog was really good. Not because I think people really would speak this way but because I'd like to think that they could. E.g. this section, where someone is trying to get information out of a gun-store owner, having tied him up first

He said, 'Okay, beard, listen up. Here's the I-know-you-know dialectic.

'Now I know you know Tom Jefferson. I know you were in the army with him. For quite a while. And I know you're a friend of his otherwise you wouldn't have told me that you'd never seen him before in your hitherto pain-free life...

'So, now you know that I know that you must have supplied it to him. Which means now I know you know things I don't know. Quite a fuckin' lot, I shouldn't wonder. And the way I see it is that your ass at a position of extreme disadvantage, I shouldn't have to wonder at all. Not any more. Not with what you are about to receive for which the Lord won't make you truly thankful, amen. So I'm gonna make you a real friendly invitation to bring me up to speed on what you know.'

The plot had quite a lot of twists in it, and although told by an omniscient narrator, it was one who told you what happened without telling you everything that happened, and without explaining why everything happened, which meant that I didn't know how things would turn out - for a fair amount of the book I suspected that we might be headed for an alternate history of the JFK assassination, even though the times didn't seem quite to fit. But the fact that I was kept guessing shows how prepared I was to be taken in by the story I suppose.

So this was a good one. The charity shop had another Kerr, which I also bought. And he's done several more, so let's hope they're all worth reading. And thanks to the person in the bookshop who pointed him out.

Completed : 08-Mar-2010

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