“In civilian life,” said Lt. Darrow, “he was an accountant, if you can believe it. He never talks about it, though.”

“How do you know Lt. Ringo was an accountant if he never talks about it?” Maj. Stubb asked.

Lt. Ringo’s plane circled around for a landing, displaying brilliant nose art of a tax form firing a machine gun labeled Internal Audit.

“I figured it out somehow,” said Lt. Darrow drily.

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This post is part of the October 2012 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s prompt is “NaMoReMo (National Mock Review Month)”.

The Accountant and the Assassin
Altos Wexan
421 pages, hardcover
First Edition (August 21, 20XX)
ISBN-10: 223405857-X
ISBN-13: 942-449758221-X
Retrograde Triton Press (domestic printing)
Kyoto Processed Ricepaper Concerns Press (international printings)

There’s definitely no false advertising in this yarn, out earlier this year from Retrograde Triton. Wexan’s book dutifully serves up the collision between a staid accountant and a high-stakes assassin in an Manhattan-in-all-but-name metropolis. One might feel from such a title that the broad outlines of such a tale are obvious, but Wexan is able to lob a few inventive curveballs.

His accountant, for example, is a sunshiny eternal optimist to the point that his oily, more accountant-like cohorts call him “Pollyanna” to his face and heap their worst clients (like a young Paris Hilton soundalike) on his desk. The collision between this bumbling, upbeat character and the dour world of professional contract killing provides the majority of the book’s humor (which is frequent enough, especially near the beginning, that the book could almost be called a comedy).

The comedic pratfalls, including a daft inversion of the usual action movie car chase, are where the book is at its best. Attempts to wring tension out of the basic setup, as in an apartment standoff involving multiple identities and double-crosses, fall flat and are enough of a tonal mismatch that the book at times seems schizophrenic. The titular assassin, a few mild twists aside, is a stock character and despite some teases she and the accountant never seem to click. The villain, a psychotic assassin “competitor,” is written with gusto but seems to lack any real motivation.

Wexan has succeeded in writing a yarn that satisfies some of the old action cliches and inverts or plays with others. But his inability to reconcile the disparate characters and tones keeps the book from being anything more than a well-executed, enjoyable beach read. Recommended, but with reservations.

-Phil “Stonewall” Pixa, The Hopewell Review.

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:
Ralph Pines
bmadsen
dolores haze
SRHowen
Angyl78
writingismypassion
meowzbark
pyrosama
randi.lee
wonderactivist

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“A word of advice,” the secretary said, drawing Elly aside. “The auditor you’ll be seeing is Mr. Leonard Purgis.”

“So?”

“Mr. Purgis is 77 years old, his wife is dead, and he’s not on speaking terms with his kids,” the secretary continued. “In other words, he’s an old man who’s stayed on long past retirement age and this is the only thing he does.”

Elly shrugged. “Well, good for him.”

“I’m trying to warn you,” the secretary sputtered, frustrated, “if there’s so much as a cent out of place in your records, he’ll find it and then you’ll never hear the end of it. Get another auditor if you can.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

Arthur “Hoc” Hocker Jr. was arrested for embezzlement on June 19. His gambling debts were such that he didn’t have the money to post bail, and the arrest came at the tail end of a long, slow slide from grace that had ultimately driven away any friends or relatives that could have helped him out. Even the local bail bondsmen refused, as several had been clients of Hoc’s accounting firm and therefore defrauded.

That much is clear: Hoc, undone, rotted in the city lockup until his trial. CCTV recordings, affidavits from attending officers, and interviews with myriad cellmates confirm this beyond a shadow of a doubt.

What, then, are we to make of Hoc appearing at his ex-wife’s house on June 21? Or his partner’s summer cottage the next day? In all, police counted seventeen appearances of Hoc in the outside world while he was incarcerated. Witnesses attest to this, but more concrete proof is offered in the form of voicemails (Hoc made no phone calls from prison) camera footage (Hoc’s wife lived in a gated and monitored community) and, most convincingly, fingerprints. The latter were found at the partner’s summer house, where Hoc had never been as a free man.

Strangest of all, witnesses report that Hoc explicitly apologized for his behavior to the people that he had harmed the most, and that he urged them to go on with their lives without regard for him or his fate. Indeed, at his trial Hoc expressed just such a sentiment, and bemoaned the lost opportunity to deliver it. He was, in point of fact, sentenced without ever leaving jail save trips to the courtroom.

But what, then, are we to make of that strange psuedo-Hoc?

When Peter returned to his home office, he found Sedena there. She was at his desk, wearing reading glasses and scratching with a blood red gel pen.

“What’s that you’re doing?” he asked amicably.

“Paperwork,” said Sedena.

“Paperwork for murdering somebody?” Peter said. “Isn’t that a little counterintuitive for assassination?”

“Not really, no.” Sedena removed her glasses and tossed them to the desk. “Littleton & Associates expects a full report for every job. It’s not all that different from corporate finance, really.”

“I find it hard to believe that anything could be as convoluted as corporate finance, least of all a transaction with so few steps,” said Peter.

“Try me.”

Peter rummaged through the stack of documents from his last day telecommuting. “See this? This is Form 943-X: Adjusted Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return for Agricultural Employees or Claim for Refund. My firm has to fill it out because of our minuscule agribusiness holdings, and it is tedious to the point of brain failure. I take care of it so that junior employees won’t have to bear its terrible brunt.”

Sedena pulled a sheaf from her own stack. “Form B3-7: Certification of Lifesign Termination. I have to fill this out, in triplicate, on demand so the suits can be sure the target wasn’t resuscitated in the hospital. Very tedious when a job was done from a mile away with a wildcatted Barrett M82A2.”

“Meet my friend Form W-8EXP: Certificate of Foreign Government or Other Foreign Organization for United States Tax Withholding,” Peter said, winnowing a sheet from his pile. “It is a tidal wave of red ink and nightmares, and I have to spend hours on the phone with people for whom English is a fourth language in order to collect the relevant information.”

“Try Form L8D-12: Collection of Organ or Organs as Proof of Contract Fulfillment. Rarely invoked in the past, very popular since the dawn of the DNA era,” replied Sedena. “That one comes with its own plastic baggie; I have to supply the bonesaw.”

Undaunted, Peter dipped back into his stash. “Uncle Sam is worried that, when you die, you will give all of your money to family members. To prevent this literally grave injustice from occurring, I have to handle Form 706: United States Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return. It involves collecting information from helpless, grieving family members like some kind of hideous beancounting ghoul. Every time I have to fill one out, I die a little inside.”

“Speaking of dying,” Sedena said, “here’s Form X2X-99: Notice of Circumstances Requiring Escalation. That one’s a little vague, so let me clear it up for you: witnesses are bad, and sometimes Littleton & Associates needs to take them on as ‘clients.’ It’s like a cascade of paperwork, since every X2X-99 means filling out another complete set. Worse, we don’t get paid for X2X-99’s; they come out of my own pocket. And that’s without the feeling that you’re just ruining someone’s day.”