Monday, June 25, 2012

The Depths of Deception / Ian Fraser

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Suspense/Thriller

Approximate word count: 85,000-90,000 words

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Ian Fraser is a South African born playwright now residing in the US. He has written four novels including The Depths of Deception.


A highly trained assassin works for The Office, a covert international spy network with offices worldwide and access to advanced technology. After he falls in love with a South African woman, he resigns from The Office and settles down to build a family life. When his family is brutally murdered, he re-activates himself, resumes his role as an assassin and searches for the person or persons responsible for the death of his family.


The story is told from the first person viewpoint of the assassin (as far as I can remember he was never named). The story has a non-linear structure, jumping back and forward both in time and in location. We experience the protagonist’s early life as he is trained in martial arts and murder by his controller, in South Africa as he builds his family; we follow him as he executes human targets, and finally in 20xx where he fulfills his final mission.

For much of the story, Fraser’s brilliant writing skills--lean and rich in imagery—were enough to immerse me within each of the threads. This was particularly true in his descriptions of life in pre and post-apartheid South Africa.

As the book progressed, though, I became impatient with the amount of time spent describing the surroundings and the cultures the protagonist found himself in. Large amounts of the text seemed reminiscent of a Theroux-like travelogue and had little to do with moving the story forward. The author (through the guise of his protagonist) holds forth on politics, culture and language, reminding me of an intelligent but annoying dinner guest who, lit by one too many brandies, loudly proclaims his opinions to a captive audience.

Labeled a thriller, there were few thrills to be had because the assassin—armed with the overwhelming technology of The Office—seemed to overmatch every opponent. He was cold and calculating and detached—hard to get connected to. Except for one instance, he never seemed to be under threat of failure or discovery.

The scenes involving the submarine offered potential for some nail biting, but because they were preceded with a flash-forward that showed the assassin had survived, the challenges and struggled of the submarine’s captain and crew offered little tension—I was told they made it.

It was all too easy.  

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant typos.

Rating: *** Three stars


Walter Knight said...

Is it necessary for the lead character to be likeable. I've talked to many readers who insist yes, there must be at least some redeaming qualities present.

But how do you like a murderer? Maybe if he only murders bad guys? But what's the fun of that? I think the lead character just needs to be interesting. I would not cheer for a Ted Bundy type character, but I might find him interesting.

BooksAndPals said...

Walter, I don't think you have to like the main character, but there has to be a character that is a large part of the story where you at a minimum care enough for them to reach their goal, whatever that is. It may be a bad person who is doing something good. It might be a person who is doing wrong for all the right reasons. In a genre like noir the main character is often a bad person, but they have enough redeeming qualities to make you care and are often in a battle with someone even worse.

If you don't care about any of the people or what happens to them, there is nothing to make the reader care about the story.

Walter Knight said...

I always root for Robin Hood to get caught by the Sheriff. The should have locked up his merry men, too.