The Russian Assassin is a prototypical spy thriller, with Russian spies, CIA spies, hired mercenary killers, a shadowy billionaire pulling the strings behind a global conspiracy, and a non-stop series of firefights, fist fights, torture, chase scenes, and plot twists. It’s a roller coaster of action that will keep all thriller fans happy and on the edge of their seats.
This is the origin story of the hero, Max Austin, whose real name is Michal Asimov—the son of a KGB agent and raised to be a super spy. He’s freelancing as a hired assassin, but his mother’s terminal cancer brings him home to Minsk. But as soon as he arrives, his parents’ house explodes, leaving him, his sister, and his 9-year-old nephew as the last surviving members of the Asimov family. The balance of the story is Max’s quest to find out who killed his family, and to kill them – while protecting his sister and nephew.
The text is well-written and well-edited. There is little to distract the reader as the author weaves together the story from three different perspectives. While it’s difficult in the very beginning to figure out exactly who’s who, particularly when one key character is identified only as The Stranger and when the identity and context of most of the major players is not immediately explained. But, as it would be in a big-budget action film (and this book would make a good Mission Impossible type movie) the reader is pulled along from crisis to crisis without much time to contemplate.
Mr. Arbor falls into a few common tropes that annoy me personally, including having his hero beaten and blown up and badly injured to the point that he should be hospitalized for a week – but then leaping from his near-death bed to battle the army of bad guys single-handedly. Getting injured along the way seems plausible, but why make his escape from death so close that his injuries need to be so seemingly debilitating if he’s going to play super-hero a day later? There is also the typically convenient global network where money is unlimited, weapons are always handy, operatives (or henchmen) are always available in any country and city, and there are no logistical obstacles to any plan. But, that’s to be expected and the reader just has to go with it.
There is also a deeply convoluted subplot about Max’s father’s true history, his best friend’s role in the intrigue, as well as Max’s relationship with his mother and his father. Ultimately those subplots lack sufficient depth and attention in the midst of all the action to be really meaningful. I would have preferred less blood and more character development. Some of the violence and torture scenes border on excessive, but that’s the author’s dilemma – seeking to enthrall the thriller junkie without making the mystery reader squeamish. Know going in that this story is on the bloody end of the spectrum.
In the end this is a fast-paced and entertaining story. It’s a thrill-ride by an author who knows his craft and writes clear prose that tells an amazing story very well.