Tubal Has a Bone to Pick With You

Dead Men’s Dust by Matt Hilton is in the genre of novels that include the following characteristics. A person with highly developed and extraordinary military skills becomes an assassin for one of the various alphabet agencies of the US government. After a few years of eliminating targets named as enemies of the US, Joe Telfer settles down, but in the UK, not the US. After getting a call that his brother’s wife is being harassed, Joe employs his seemingly innate skills to solve her problem and, by the way, promises that he will help her by finding his brother, her husband, a guy that has abandoned his wife and kids in England to take up with a girlfriend in the US. Now we have the reason for Joe to return to the US and look for his brother, John Telfer.

Joe needs help in the US, of course. He has been away for a long time. Luckily he has maintained contact with his buddies from the past who were in a similar line of work. A lot of dialogue is taken up by the main characters discussing when it is correct to kill. Harvey, Joe, and Rink agree that it is more difficult now to kill than it was in the days when they had permission to do so. Think of various types of affiliation with the CIA.

John Telfer has disappeared from life with his new girlfriend. There are hints that he is involved in minor criminal activity, he got in over his head, and he is running away from his old life financed by money he stole from former criminal colleagues. Brother Joe, main protagonist and brother to John, doesn’t care what John has done or why he did it. He just wants to help his sister-in-law, John’s wife, who remains in England.

And it is true, John is on the run. Unfortunately in his travels on the road, John meets Tubal Cain, a psychotic possessing great skills with a knife. At his most harmless, he likes to get close to people and cut swatches of cloth from their clothes without them becoming aware. That is play; it’s a game. On the other extreme, he likes to kill people after torturing them for a while. Then he takes body parts as souvenirs. He strips the souvenirs to the bone and periodically returns to his home lair in a desert where he is constructing some form of tribute, maybe to himself.

John and Tubal meet. Tubal thinks John has some value in the short run to serve as a confederate in stealing from the rich and giving to Tubal. There is no doubt that Tubal will eventually kill John unless Joe rescues him first. Although Tubal is a psychotic and a trained killer, Joe and his friends are well-balanced mentally healthy killers. So, the race is on.

The novel is fast paced and entertaining with only one flaw. I will illustrate the flaw with the following quote: “I am a believer in a sixth sense, the heightened ability to detect the unseen watcher, the sniper on the rooftop or the tiger hidden in the long grass. It’s so widely believed that it has even been given a term: Rapid Intuitive Experience, the soldier’s very own ESP.” (pg 279). The flaw is the unexplained, sudden “ah-ha” moment. The hero knows danger is imminent, but the knowledge seems to come from within; there are no external clues that the hero is about to be shot, stabbed, strangled, or otherwise maimed. It’s probably a great skill to have. It is also a handy device for an author who may have painted the plot into a corner. The hero can escape due to an almost divine mental revelation.

I am a believer in a sixth sense, the heightened ability to detect the unseen watcher, the sniper on the rooftop or the tiger hidden in the long grass. It’s so widely believed that it has even been given a term: Rapid Intuitive Experience, the soldier’s very own ESP. (pg 279).

The flaw is the unexplained, sudden “ah-ha” moment. The hero knows danger is imminent, but the knowledge seems to come from within; there are no external clues that the hero is about to be shot, stabbed, strangled, or otherwise maimed. It’s probably a great skill to have. It is also a handy device for an author who may have painted the plot into a corner. The hero can escape due to an almost divine mental revelation.

This novel is good entertainment if the reader can get past the frequent appearance of fortuitous circumstances that rescue the good guys from the bad guys.

 

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