Work Done for Hire by Joe Haldeman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The only good thing about having a major snowstorm knock out power to your house for three days is that you can really catch up on your reading. Thankfully once the Kindle ran out of juice I still had a stack of stuff from the library as well as some recent purchases from a used book store to keep from thinking about how my toes were growing numb.
It’s the near future and America is still so tangled up in various conflicts overseas that the draft was re-instituted. Jack Daley was one of the reluctant citizens called to duty. Jack turned out to be a pretty good shot and was trained as a sniper and during his deployment he killed several people before being wounded and sent home. Despite some dark times thanks to his PTSD Jack has started building a career as a writer as well as enjoying his relationship with his girlfriend Kit.
Jack receives a chance to make some serious money by writing up a novelette based on the idea for a horror movie about an obese serial killer who might be an alien. The assignment comes from a famous film director who has the basic story concept but is looking to get it written up as a book to see if it would make a good film. With a potential fat payday on the line Jack throws himself into the work and is making good progress. That’s when he receives a mysterious package with a rifle inside it as well as a demand: If Jack follows instructions and uses the gun to kill a ‘bad man’ he’ll make a small fortune. If he refuses then Kit will be killed.
Since he doesn’t want to murder anyone Jack and Kit try to alert the authorities as well as make themselves impossible to find. However, they can’t get anyone to take them seriously, and the bad guys have an uncanny ability to keep tracking them down.
I’ve been a big fan of Joe Haldeman for some time, but his novel is hard to get a handle on. Even though the concept seems easy enough as a sci-fi thriller it takes a long time to get going. The first part is mainly about Jack’s life as he works on the book and goes on some bicycle trips as part of his research for it. We even get a chapter in which he meets Kit’s parents for the first time that really serves no purpose. There’s also the book-within-the-book with Jack’s chapter’s about a really gruesome serial killer doing his business. The rifle and the threat don’t even arrive until about halfway through a book that isn’t that long.
Even when we get to the aspect you’d think would be the conspiracy thriller it seems disjointed and low key with Jack and Kit kinda sorta trying to lay low, but there’s not really a sense of danger in any of it even when they get found. The ultimate resolution doesn’t make a lot of sense either.
So this book is a mess, but it’s an oddly fun mess. I really liked the character of Jack who is a funny guy just trying to live his life. Despite being a decent sniper in the army he’s not really a bad-ass, and as he points out several times he’s not a super assassin. He wasn’t even the best shot in his platoon, and he really doesn’t want to ever hurt anyone again.
Despite the plot not making a lick of sense and the book seeming kind of aimless overall, I had a pretty good time reading it just because I liked Haldelman’s story about this guy writing a serial killer story. Maybe I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much if I had anything else to do, but it was fun enough when you’re huddled a blanket with no TV or heat.
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