The Killing Game
Outskirts Press (2011)
Reviewed by Marty Shaw for Reader Views (8/11)
“The Killing Game” takes place in the 70s, and that is a fitting time period for a book that evokes the spirit of a 70s-style pulp thriller. The main character, Bronk, is an old-style tough guy that doesn’t apologize for the things he’s done, and Bronk has done some things that make him a very bad boy. One particular dirty deed committed by the world-weary assassin might factor in to you deciding if you can root for the “hero” of the story or not, because author J.C. Stevens has mixed fact with fiction so that Bronk was part of the conspiracy that killed John F. Kennedy.
Shortly after that infamous episode of his life, Bronk got out of the assassin game and lived his life as a barber, but a guy who lives by killing others can never really retire so Bronk is once again sucked into his old lifestyle. The job seems deceptively easy – grab a government witness from her FBI babysitters and deliver her to the guy that can make sure the wrong information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. Unfortunately for Bronk, there are more than two players in this particular game, and knowing who his allies are becomes an impossible act.
The plot has plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing, and the action has that gritty feel of pulp novels from the past. Bronk might not be a likable guy, but he’s realistic. He’s good at what he does, but he’s not superhuman and he’s far from perfect. His motives reveal some of the pain he feels from past sins he’s committed and he knows that his future is more likely to hold visions of fire and brimstone than a glimpse at the pearly gates. He knows this and he’s comfortable with the knowledge of it.
“The Killing Game” has a large supporting cast of characters, and it’s occasionally easy to lose track of who’s who, but the story never veers off course and the ending offers a bitter-sweet conclusion that is very fitting for Bronk. While he might not be a hero, he’s not actually a villain either. In the end, he’s just a guy who’s good at his job, and it’s not entirely his fault that his job is killing people.