One of Martyn V. Halm’s many gifts as a writer is his ability to get inside the mind and heart of a protagonist who ought to be unsympathetic and to make the character’s experience so compelling that the reader roots for him. Wolfgang, narrator of this suspenseful tale, is professional pickpocket. He smokes heroin. He lives in his van with a pet rat. He’s not connected to a family or close friends and that’s how he wants it. Life is safer that way. A young man on the wrong side of the law, he has to live without fully trusting anyone, and even then he never can be quite safe. Not someone most of us would identify with. And yet Halm tells his story in a way that makes the reader empathize with the tension of living on the edge and connect with those aspects of Wolf that a law-abiding citizen may fantasize about: the desire to get away with something, to take from the rich and give to oneself, to work only a few hours a day, and to answer to no one.
The gradual destruction of Wolf’s chosen way of life begins with Lilith, a young woman who wants him to teach her his trade. Something isn’t quite right about her, though he can’t figure out what it is. He also encounters the dangerous and enigmatic woman he calls Q, who occasionally hires him when she needs his subtlety and dexterity for some secretive task, and he dares not turn her down. Readers who are familiar with the Amsterdam Assassin series will feel an added layer of threat when they meet Q, though Wolf never learns her name or her occupation. Fans of Halm’s other books will know.
The story is framed within a series of short present-tense reflections after Wolf has been severely injured in an alley at night, alternating with longer past-tense flashbacks revealing how his life came to this point. This narrative pattern heightens the tension as the events that cracked his isolation and then swept him into deadly entanglements are revealed.
Recommended for readers who enjoy thrillers, suspense, strong characterization, and books that go off the beaten track.
The latest in the Amsterdam Assassin series is the best yet. Like the others, it strikes a balance between action thriller and psychological suspense. The immersion in Japanese culture as well as Amsterdam life is masterful. There are layers upon layers of complex manipulation, making the imagery of strategy games, both chess and the Japanese game of go, key elements in setting the tone. As always, Halm writes both love scenes and fight scenes with intimate realism and finesse. Neither the sex nor the violence is gratuitous. Both are part of the development of deep and intriguing characterization. Halm portrays the protagonists and antagonists in their full humanity, with no sense that one side of the law or the other is inhabited by morally superior people. It’s not even clear that there really are two sides to the law. The story reveals a multi-dimensional moral universe, nothing as simple as good vs. evil or cops vs. criminals, in a plot that flows from Jamaica to the Netherlands and back with unending suspense.
I’m reviewing early because I recommend reading this series from the beginning and reading the short fiction as well All the prior works lead up to this one. Though each novel tells its own complete tale and reaches a resolution, reading the books in sequence lets the reader follow a unique and compelling set of characters through a larger—and habit-forming—story. Start now. Ghosting comes out December. 1
Never bought an indie book before? Try it. A lot of readers haven’t, but it’s a low-risk adventure. I’ve paid as much $14.99 for a traditionally published e-book that I didn’t like, and I just paid $8.49 for one that’s only 67 pages. (Fortunately, I like it so far.) The most I’ve ever paid for an indie e-book is $4.99 and I’ve liked almost all of them. The only way I take traditional or indie publishing into consideration as a factor in choosing a book is that I love indie prices. Of course, there are a lot of other factors that go into my choice of a book, and this may explain why I’ve had such a satisfying indie reading experience. The following criteria have helped me find some great writers.
Have people whose opinion I respect given it good reviews? These might be people I know well on Goodreads, reviewers I follow on Booklikes, or personal friends, but they are all people who care about quality. I found Martyn V. Halm’s compelling Amsterdam Assassin Series this way. I’ve reviewed on one of the short stories in this series on this site, and all the books and singles on both Goodreads and Booklikes.
Is the author a member of Sisters in Crime? http://www.sistersincrime.org This has been a 100% reliable way for me to find good mystery authors. (By the way, though Sisters in Crime started as an organization to support women writing in the mystery genre, we have male members.) The organization educates its members with classes and workshops and discussion groups, and local and national chapter meetings. SinC’s “Guppies” group—short for the Great Unpublished—has many published authors who continue their membership because of the support they get and can give to new Guppies. I’ve never read a SinC member’s book that let me down. SinC members whose books I’ve reviewed on this site include J.L. Simpson, DV Berkom, Anna Castle and Diane Vallere. I’m currently half-way through SinC member Lois Winston’s hilariously inventive cozy mystery, Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun. Even the title made me laugh. Look for a favorable review coming soon.
Did the book earn a B.R.A.G. Medallion? This award for the best in indie writing isn’t a contest—it’s an ongoing process. Books submitted to the Book Readers’ Appreciation group are read and evaluated by numerous people, not just one or two judges or critics. I’ve never read a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree book that let me down. DV Berkom’s and Anna Castle’s books mentioned above earned B.R.A.G. medallions. (So did my murder-less mystery Shaman’s Blues, but of course I haven’t reviewed my own work.) If you’ve never read an indie book before and you like #mysteries and thrillers, you could start with one of these books. I think you’ll get your money’s worth—probably more.
This long short story or short novella is one of the four of its kind that make up the Amsterdam Assassin Series along with three full-length novels. (I’m glad to know that a fourth novel is on the way.) One of the many things I like about this series is that Halm’s style is so unique and his characters so original that I can’t describe his work by referring to other books or authors. The protagonist is a professional assassin—a complex woman, strong and unusually intelligent, with expertise in many areas related to her occupation. In Fundamental Error, Katla’s skills with technology and explosives and her capacity for careful planning, self-control, and observation are central to the plot. There’s a deceptive calm to the narration that somehow raises the tension. The shifts in time and point of view are structured masterfully, shifting back and forth between the minutes before a terrorist’s attempt to blow up an Amsterdam shopping center and the weeks leading up to the attack. The target’s horrific goal makes this story less morally ambiguous than the others. I didn’t feel the “Oh my god, I’m rooting for Katla and she’s an assassin” amazement that has struck me as I got swept up in the novels and the other Killfiles. Not that I mind having that experience. In fact, it’s one of the marvels of this series. Halm somehow makes a woman whose job is unsympathetic—to say the least—into a riveting lead character for a series.
If you’re new to the series, you could start here (free)