LOVE & BULLETS
By Percival Constantine
When this book first arrived, I was really eager to dig into it as I’ve generally enjoyed most of the titles put out by this loose outfit of writers. Sadly the book disappointed me greatly and the first warning it would do so was in the introduction wherein the writer gives us a detailed history of the book and how it came to be and how much he loves these characters. In the future, allow the readers to make their own judgments and leave the histories, if you feel they are warranted, to the end of the book as an afterward.
Only in science fiction movies and comics do characters die and then come back again and again and again. It has become such a trite norm all of us have come to expect it in these medias. But not in literature, which truly should be held to a high standard than a B movie gone direct to video.
LOVE & BULLETS takes place in the world of super secret, deadly assassins who are suppose to be the most elite killers in the world. Angela Lockhart, described as "beautiful, deadly and cunning" is the best of the best. We are given a few glimpses into her training with Agency, another ultra-secret government group, and she excels in all facets of mayhem. Her teachers claim she is not only the most adept assassin they have ever trained, but her intelligence IQ borders on genius. Angela is the perfect killing machine. If all this sounds a wee bit cliché, that’s because it all is and had it actually been realized as a comic book, would have worked extremely well. But this isn’t a comic.
When Angela’s husband is murdered, the Agency refuses to help her investigate his death and punish his unknown killers. Angela quits the Agency to go solo and find the bad guys all on her own. But before she can do so, she immediately comes under the radar of a colorful, master villain known as Dante. Dante offers her assistance in finding her husband’s killers if she in turn will come to work for his ultra-secret organization known as the Infernum. If this sounds a little bit like Spy vs Spy, well, that’s perfectly legitimate as espionage thrillers have always stretched credulity to the max.
Unfortunately Constantine seems unable to resist the temptations of making Dante all things in one. A man of mystery, a man of the arts, an expert on pop culture, a movie fanastic, oh, and a deadly martial artist. All the while being this mysterious spy master with a world wide network under his command. A little would have gone a long way here, but that’s not what we get. These characters are exaggerations and when they begin to act illogically, one can only sigh with resignation.
We are told Angela has a brilliant mind but from the first page to the last she is completely manipulated, first by Dante, then by the Agency spy who falls in love with her and then again by Dante. Brilliant, hardly. Naïve, completely.
Throughout the book it is made blatantly clear that Angela and Dante will invariably have to fight each other to the death. Which is as good a point as any to applaud Constantine’s technical writing skills. He is a good writer in that his prose is precise, economic with excellent dialogue and creates some truly amazing action sequences. For this he gets top marks, but that cannot save his unimaginative storytelling. Once again he eschews logic and commits the final, major sin with the outcome of that battle royal.
Following the book’s own logic, Dante is a superior fighter and should kill Angela with little difficulty. But she’s the protagonist and we hope she will figure a way to survive. This is classic thriller suspense, rooting for the underdog. And that’s exactly what happens, in that Angela manages one final trick and gets the drop on Dante and stabs him in the back with his own Katana blade. At which point, she would have then found a pistol and put two slugs into his head to make sure he is truly dead. Kaput. That’s the cold, methodical professional we are told she is. But Constantine doesn’t want Dante to be dead and so Angela simply walks away from his body, steals some money and flees. In other words she acts totally uncharacteristically.
The final chapter arrives and lo and behold Dante walks out of a hospital all smiles and good cheer. Surprise. Hardly. Good writing is about discovering who your characters are and then being faithful to them, regardless of how painful the outcome. The lack of this realism is evident on every page and like Angela, we readers are manipulated with a heavy hand that serves no one but the writer. Despite this misstep, Constantine is talented and it is my hope he’ll forgo any plans for a sequel and instead challenge himself to give us something totally new.