|Vintage Pulp||Sep 27 2023|
A murder by any other name would kill as dead.
This is a rather pretty cover painted by Charles Copeland for E.M. Harper's 1960 novel The Assassin, the story of Alec Jordan, who's spared the guillotine in an Algerian prison but must repay the shadowy government operatives who freed him by murdering an Arab political figure. We've seen convicts turned into assassins a couple times in vintage literature. What sets this story apart is its many flashbacks to Jordan's youth, from the time he was witness to his moonshiner father's killing by cops, to being sprung from reform school to play high school football (seems someone always wants to put his skills to use), to his various war experiences.
The story begins in Paris, from which Jordan pursues his target to London and Vienna, world weary, haunted by the past, and hounded by the people who are operating him. There's, unsurprisingly, the requisite woman-from-his-past for whom he still has feelings—a beauty named Renée who married an Austrian count while Jordan was hors de combat. Conveniently, she's now a widow, but is reclaiming the past an option for Jordan? To survive but lose your soul, to resist corruption but be killed, to find redemption in love. You've read it before, and though Harper breaks no new ground plotwise, he wrote a contemplative iteration of the story that offers some enjoyment.