CIRCLE OF ASSASSINS
BY STEVEN RIGOLOSI
Review by Claire McManus
Imagine you are given an opportunity to rid yourself and the world
of a person who's mistreated you, hurt someone you love, or ruined
your life. The only catch is that in return you must do a similar
favor for someone else. This strangers-on-a-train-type premise is
the basis of the extraordinary Circle of Assassins, which goes several
steps beyond anything Patricia Highsmith might have imagined. In
Strangers on a Train, one of the two killers is certifiably insane.
In Circle of Assassins, the set-up is all the more disturbing because
each assassin is a fully sane person who's decided to turn to murder
as a last resort.
The novel begins with five people answering an ad in a New York City
newspaper. The ad begins "Revenge is Sweet" but also includes
a disclaimer that the services provided are for "entertainment
purposes only." But the ad is just the first step in an intense
and complicated plot masterminded by a man the reader knows only
as "A." For reasons that become clear as the novel progresses,
A uses the ad to conscript five people into his circle of assassins.
The people who answer the ad, and their chosen victims, are extremely
diverse. There's the older woman who wants to get rid of a drug dealer
who's moved into her neighborhood, the grieving parent who's lost
a child to a serial pedophile, the college professor who thinks her
dean is holding back racial and gender advancement. The stage is
set—each would-be assassin receives her or his assignment,
and we watch as they research their victims and execute (or fail
to execute) their plots.
What makes Circle of Assassins such an intense and engaging read
is the manner in which Rigolosi unfolds the plot like the petals
of a rose. Each time you think you have a handle on what makes the
assassins tick, or on how deserving or undeserving of murder each
victim is, the author unfurls another leaf that makes you question
everything you've read up to that point. We see how the assassins'
views of themselves may not match that of others; the author is relentless
in pulling the rug out from under his characters and us. As the plot
twists and turns, Circle of Assassins becomes a morality play about
hypocrisy, power, justice, and revenge.
Rigolosi's clear strength is characterization. You'll never forget
the conflicted detective, angry feminist, and homicidal brother-in-law,
but more than that you'll be impressed by the way Rigolosi packs
so much into a brief 220 pages. You will need to suspend disbelief
in order to make your way into the story—but once you've done
that, the world that Rigolosi draws is a completely consistent and
somewhat disturbing look into the darker forces that drive humanity.
Part Martin Amis novella, part Minette Walters mystery, and part
Magritte painting, Circle of Assassins offers readers a 360-degree
view of crime, following not only the murderers and their victims,
but also friends and family in the aftermath of the crimes. I don't
think I've read such an ambitious and effective genre novel in years.
I recommend this highly to those who are looking to break out of
typical genre fiction.
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2007 SPINETINGLER Magazine - All rights reserved