"Smoker" by Greg Rucka
Greg Rucka gives us a different kind of tough guy. His name is Atticus Kodiak. He moons over his lost love, mourns the death of his friend and colleague, and finds a lot missing emotionally with his current squeeze. He's a man who feels the consequences of his choices, but he's marching, and it's the marching that makes him a tough guy in my book. And on the subject of tough, let me just say, there are some women in this story you wouldn't want to cross.
Atticus is tasked with providing security for Jeremiah Pugh, the prosecution's chief witness in a trial against Big Tobacco. Two attempts have been made on Pugh's life, the second one so ingenious it's believed that one of the ten deadliest assassins in the world has been hired to take Pugh out. The assassin is completely anonymous. No one has been able to identify his age, nationality or even his preferred method of killing. He is known simply as John Doe.
If that wasn't enough for Atticus to handle, he's forced to work hand-in-hand with Elliot Trent, the not-so-bright owner of a private security firm, Sentinel Guards. Trent has never liked Atticus and probably likes him a whole lot less now that Atticus is schtupping Trent's only daughter.
The stakes are high for Atticus: save Pugh and save his own life and those of his co-workers against the threat of John Doe. Save Pugh and take out Big Tobacco. Save Pugh and restore his shredded reputation from previous failures.
It's worth reading to see if Atticus triumphs and to discover the identity of John Doe. The issue I had with the story is Jeremiah Pugh. I can't decide whether he's not believable or if I just don't like him. He does all these weird, unexplainable things, like making a show of drinking vodka from sun-up to sun-down in front of his bodyguards. He lets Atticus in on his secret: he's watered down the booze. Why? If this had a point, it went zoom -- over my head. Then there's Pugh's plan to commit suicide as soon as he has given his testimony. All this does is lower the story stakes for me.
And like me, Atticus is dismayed with Pugh. Here he is, risking his life and the lives of his team to save this guy against the deadliest killer in the world. And Pugh plans to off himself as soon as it's over?
But we want Atticus to triumph. We like him. He's tough.
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