It is a pity that Tom Wood started writing late — before taking up writing he worked as a bookseller, cleaner, factory worker, labourer, supermarket cashier and video editor. But when he did, he came up with a quality thriller, The Hunter. And he has now followed it up with The Enemy, starring the same lone-assassin protagonist, Victor.
Victor, who has no surname and whose nationality is unknown, also goes by the codename Agent Tesseract. He is a freelance killer, on a sort of retainer for the CIA, helping the agency rub out people it wants to but doesn't want to be seen to have done it. Nothing is known about his past. He is not dealing with any psychological issues and — refreshingly — is not a very complex character. We don't even know why he has become what he is.
Victor is amoral and trusts no one. The only instance where there is even a suggestion that he has human feelings is when he kills another contract killer — despite promising not to do so — after finding out that the contract killer has killed children.
An expert marksman who usually dispatches his quarry with one between the eyes, and one or two to the chest, Victor also indulges in more creative methods of killing if the situation demands. An arms dealer is blown to bits when he flushes the toilet, setting off plastic explosives placed in the tank. "Chunks of Farkas dropped from the bathroom ceiling," Wood informs us.
A man at the CIA has put in motion a plan that will see two of the world's biggest arms dealers — Bahaa Ariff, the Egyptian, and Vladimir Kasakov, the Russian — go after each other with the mistaken assumption that one is responsible for the other's human and material losses. The idea is to have a long and bloody war between the two big-time criminals and their organisations to bring down their empires and disrupt the global trade in illegal firearms.
Things start going terribly wrong for Victor when he discovers that his employer has put out a contract on him, too. But Victor is to be eliminated only after he has knocked off the ruthless Kasakov as he relaxes in his holiday dacha on Russia's Black Sea coast. Victor is now just a pawn in an international conspiracy.
Adding to his troubles, in the course of one of his hits, Victor has eliminated a four-member Mossad squad in self-defence. The Israelis were on a recon mission, unbeknownst to him. Now, Israel's notorious and lawless spy agency also wants his head and has sent a Kidon team composed of multiple assassins (as it did in the brutal murder in Dubai of Hamas official Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in January 2010). The Kidon catch up with him soon, but they are in for a nasty surprise.
From Bucharest to Bologna, and from Minsk to Moscow, the action is riveting. The Enemy is a thriller on steroids. Wood manages to grip the reader's interest till the very end. His brilliance lies in his description of events.
You are able to picture the action sequences in the mind, as though in a cinema. One hand-to-hand fight is described in about five pages, in minute detail, but without seeming tedious. Wood's research on weapons seems solid. And in Victor, he has brought to the readers a character to rival Jason Bourne.
The Enemy By Tom Wood,Sphere, 400 pages, £12.99