A World of Assassins, by Neil Davies

Review by Steven Pirie

Publish America?

It seems to me that the recent expose of Publish America as a seemingly accept-all, no-editorial-intervention publisher by a group of disenchanted science fiction writers was greeted by great mirth amongst the writing community. Yet, there was little sympathy expressed for authors who’d opted for the Publish America route to publication, be it in ignorance of the company’s apparent lax procurement practices, or in desperation having ‘done the rounds’ of conventional publishers to no success.

It means, I think, books like A World of Assassins, by Neil Davies, have an extra hurdle to surmount in addition to all the problems of marketing and publicity and distribution faced by the small press as a whole.

And that’s a shame, because A World of Assassins is lovingly edited, has no glaring errors, is well constructed, has plot and character and all things associated with ‘real’ publishing houses. I hope any stigma about Publish America is limited to the writing community and not the book buying public as a whole. Certainly, the production of the book itself is fine.

At eight years of age, Tom Gates lives a feral existence on an Earth ravaged by over population and social collapse. A chance encounter with an assassin, who notices in Tom assassin potential, sees the boy taken to the planet Mort to be trained in deadly arts.

This is back story, weaved skilfully in to the tale by a series of lucid dreams – yes, a device much used, but done so here so unobtrusively that it works very well (and as a means of foreshadowing Tom’s later suspicions that all is not well in his world) – whereas the main tale takes place in Tom’s adult life. Tom is a detective in the Earth police department. He’s good; his Mort taught skills give him an almost sixth sense in solving crimes. So, when humans are being murdered on the planet Dirve, Tom is seconded to solve these far off crimes.

This is very much a cross genre work. It’s a crime novel, but not hard-boiled to the extent that it gets bogged down in police procedural stuff, or in evidential stuff such as say in Kathy Reichs’s work. It’s a science fiction novel, but not hard enough to bother with practicalities of the science – Davies’s space ships travel the galaxy, but how they do so is of no concern. The result is a concentration on what matters, and the reader is thus taken very close to story without the minutiae of distractions that so often appear in such works. Whether you argue that it’s the minutiae of distractions that make such a genre work, I can’t say.

Given that humans, and their stench, are very much unwelcome by all in Davies’s universe, this book has an underlying theme of racism, minorities, and under classes. But again this is not done in a preachy way; Davies writes in a nicely understated style.

During his time on Dirve, Tom falls in love with a young prostitute named Sally. This part of the plot felt rushed, and I didn’t feel a part of Tom’s becoming emotionally involved so quickly, particularly with his history of losing women and being hurt. The fact that he’s so blasé about her profession seemed a little odd, too, and ultimately, when he loses Sally, because of all this I couldn’t quite connect with his sadness and loss. The problem, I suppose, is the short time span Davies has to play with here; that’s where the lack of reality comes from. There’s a similar love interest at the beginning, when Tom is shown to harbour desires for his partner, Alison, yet that too is a subplot not fully realised as Alison plays no further part once Tom leaves for Dirve. Such love interests are there to add character, of course, and as such they do still succeed to some extent.

But, if these are problems, they are minor ones when compared to all that’s good in this book. I found it to be truly something of a page turner. As the plot unfolds, we learn that Tom’s adversary is also a Mort trained assassin. Thus is a final showdown promised that doesn’t disappoint.

A World of Assassins, by Neil Davies. Tpb, 300pp, £15.50. Published by Publish America and available from Amazon UK. Author’s Website: www.nwdavies.co.uk

This review originally appeared on Whispers of Wickedness, and is reproduced here with permission.