Title: The Second Life of Nick Mason
Rating: 2 Stars
I’ve read several of Steven Hamilton’s works. The Alex McKnight series is OK. I enjoyed the first in the series, A Cold Day in Paradise. I read one or two more in the series, but they quickly devolved into a predictable formula. The Lock Artist, which is a one off, was actually pretty awesome. The protagonist was a mute dedicated to a life of crime whose skill was to be able to break any lock. Having a quiet person at the heart of an action story was novel and affecting.
It looks like Nick Mason is going to be another series, so I thought that I’d give him another shot. Nick Mason was a career criminal in Boston. He’d been a thief for about ten years. He then got married, had a child, and walked the straight and narrow. In true crime fiction fashion, he’s convinced to do one more job, which of course goes completely haywire, a cop is killed, and he’s sentenced to twenty years in prison.
While there, he meets an organized crime leader (Darius Cole) that’s serving multiple life sentences. Darius takes a liking to Nick and sees potential in him. He makes a deal with Nick. He will get Nick out of prison but in exchange, while Nick is out, he must do whatever Darius orders.
Desperate to see his daughter, Nick agrees. In short order, a detective on Nick’s original case recants his testimony and Nick walks free.
However, the devil always gets his due. Almost immediately, Darius orders him to kill a man. Reluctant to do so, he takes the gun and hesitantly goes to the hotel room where the man is at. His victim attacks him first and in the ensuing fight, Nick kills him.
Darius now assumes that he’s a stone cold killer and continues to order him out for additional hits, all of which Nick, in one form or another, manages to accomplish.
And this brings us to the essential problem here. Are we supposed to believe that a semi-reformed thief with no history of violence decides to go out and become a stone cold assassin just because he wants to see his daughter? And this is the protagonist. Are we supposed to be rooting for him as he does the killing for a crime lord?
It’d be one thing if his character morphed from a general nice guy to a remorseless killer (think Breaking Bad), but here, we’re supposed to be seeing him as this basic nice guy trying to make a relationship work while at the same time has preternatural skills killing people.
I don’t know. Even for crime fiction, the premise seems incredulous if not actually ridiculous, and as the novel progressed, I just couldn’t find myself to feel any empathy for the character and I found his motivation completely unbelievable. I seriously doubt whether there’s any person that’d willingly become a highly efficient hit man just so that he can catch an occasional glance at his daughter as she’s playing soccer.