Book Review: Red Right Hand
Red Right Hand
by Chris Holm
Mulholland Books, 2016
Fans of the great old 1980s comic book series Nexus will feel right at home with the premise of Chris Holm’s inimitably titled new thriller Red Right Hand. In that comic series, our hero, Horatio Hellpop, donned the mantle of the super-being Nexus in order to hunt down the mass murderers of the galaxy and execute them. The counter-intuitive nature of Nexus’s mission was meant to add tang to the proceedings, and it worked.
It tends to work in Holm’s book as well. The hero here is Michael Hendricks, who was introduced to readers in The Killing Kind as an ex-military he-man who’d settled comfortably into a job in which he fulfilled assassination contracts on very specific targets: other hitmen, the information fed to him by his armed forces buddy Lester, until – well, let’s let Holm do his own info-dumping, so you can get to know him a bit:
His buddy Lester, with whom he’d served in Afghanistan, was their operation’s tech head. He ID’d the clients, and gathered intel on their targets. Hendricks handled the wetwork. For a while, business was booming. Then the Council caught wise and sent a hitman to hit him back. The man they sent – Alexander Engelmann – was tenacious, sadistic, and hard to kill. Hendricks managed, barely, but not before the bastard tortured Lester to death. Ever since, Hendricks had dedicated every waking moment to determining who, exactly, was on the Council so he could take them down.
Thus: Hendricks has turned around his professional life, sharpened it: he’s no longer hunting the Council’s hitmen, he’s now hunting the Council itself. But since the Council shrouds itself in secrecy (as all criminal cabals do … it’s just common sense, when you think about it), Hendricks has to play a long game in order to lure out one of its minor members, lull him into a false sense of security, and then force him to tell Hendricks everything about the Council’s private Facebook details (the irony of the fact that Hendricks plans to use torture to extract this information seems equally lost on him and his creator). At first, it all seems to be going well; a dump-truck’s worth of coincidences have contrived to put Hendricks in the same empty restaurant as the Council baddie he plans to interrogate, and although the baddie has two hulking henchmen, those henchmen are armed with .22-caliber “pop guns” – neither the muscle nor the firepower are a match for Hendricks and his righteous anger. In fact, he purloins one of those pop-guns and uses it to kill one of the bodyguards, although it takes a few rounds even with a point-blank shot to the man’s face:
It was nothing personal. Headshots are simply the quickest way to put a target down. Or, at least, they would be if Hendricks had a real gun to work with, instead of this rinky-dink .22.
Before he can extract the baddie to his torture den, Hendricks is very nearly gutted by a cleaver-wielding chef (the guy has a problem with hired help, but then, so did Bond); he’s saved by a saucy barmaid named Cameron, who takes him back to her place to Netflix and suture. In the meantime, a devastating terrorist attack on the Golden Gate Bridge has well you get the point, right? Holm here is crafting a potboiler in which an FBI agent ends up seeking Hendricks’ help with an assignment that sure as Sunday will end up dovetailing with that whole kill-the-Council prior engagement, and the extent to which you’re willing to swallow it all and keep turning the pages is exactly the extent to which Chris Holm is your kind of author. He himself makes no conspicuous mistakes; his dialogue is funny and worldly, his characters are easily graspable, and his many action sequences are beautifully executed. Every chapter, every paragraph, virtually every word is so intensely predictable that after a fifteen minutes, your brain will shut itself off, like a computer entering power-saving mode, and only the pleasure-centers of your limbic system will remain working.
The problem with it is the problem with almost all he-man airport thrillers: their inherent silliness. In order for a book like this to work, it must be entirely populated by rubbery cartoon figures. Best friends get tortured to death by bad guys. Tortured-to-death best friends hold on just long enough to grit out important information to tough guys. Tough guys can have their spleens cleavered out of them al fresco and require nothing more by way of medical attention than some quick stitches and some Advil. Saucy barmaids can be ready to abandon their old lives for the sake of adventure. And the hero (and the author?)(and, most vitally, the reader?), despite the occasional gray hair in his fashionable scruff, can take out the starting lineup of the Denver Broncos when he really, really needs to. None of this has any connection to the real world, and its authors always seem to know that – thus their tendency to load their prose with seemingly real-world details, time stamps, and product placements. It’s a strategy that lends itself to lampooning, but as always, it’s the authors themselves who, knowingly or not, do the best lampooning:
The wind gusted, cold and clammy, The lone streetlight swayed. The sky was clear and full of stars. The heat of day had long since bled off into space. Hendricks zipped up his new sweatshirt, and crossed his arms for warmth. The stitches in his side protested. He wondered how long it had been since he’d washed down those four Advil with Gatorade in the Walmart parking lot in Hempstead, New York – trying to simultaneously dull the pain and replace the fluids he’d lost.
But maybe that, too, is crucial. You’ll never find yourself gulping Gatorade in a Walmart Parking lot while on the run from an international crime syndicate, after all. So you get to live a little, for Pete’s sake.