Sins of the Assassin
by Robert Ferrigno
Published by Scribner
400 pages, 2008
Reviewed by Anthony Rainone
Three years have now passed in the Islamic States of America, since it was first introduced to readers in Prayers for the Assassin (2006), Book One of Robert Ferrigno’s Assassin Trilogy. In the sequel, Sins of the Assassin, things are looking decidedly gloomy. For starters, former Fedayeen shadow warrior Rakkim Epps, the single most important agent carrying out covert operations on behalf of President Damon Kingsley, doesn’t feel like his old self. Raising no less concern, Rakkim has spotted the Black Robe strangler Tariq-al Faisal in Seattle’s Zone (“officially called the Christian Quarter, a thirty-or-forty-block section of the city where nightclubs and coffeehouses flourished, where cybergame parlors and movie theatres operated largely free of censorship”), and he is displaying suspicious activity that can only mean ill-doings aimed at the Islamic Republic. And most critically, recent activity in the Bible Belt (the old Southern Confederacy) indicates imminent danger from the likes of Colonel Zachary Smitts, a Catholic enemy. With this blockbuster beginning, Ferrigno’s readers should buckle in for an exhilarating ride of thriller proportions, with high stakes: the continuation or demise of the American Muslim nation.
The year is 2043, and Epps is now married to Sarah Dougan, the niece of Thomas “Redbeard” Dougan, the former chief of State Security who was slain in Prayers. After foiling the attempts of the Old One, a Muslim multi-billionaire “far over a hundred years” old and intent on ruling the Islamic Republic, the lives of Rakkim and Sarah, and their newborn son, Michael, are in danger. Hiding out in the presidential palace, they are happy, but unable to live a normal existence -- something Rakkim longs to do. But then again, nothing is normal about either of them. Sarah is a brilliant historian who was able to decipher the lie behind the Zionist Betrayal. She continues to use her analytical skills in aiding President Kingsley. Rakkim still maintains the speed, agility and deadly accuracy of his former training as a Fedayeen (“Only one in a thousand qualified for Fedayeen ... but only one Fedayeen in a thousand qualified to be a shadow warrior or assassin”). Yet, his skills at killing weigh on him more heavily in this second installment of Ferrigno’s trilogy. Ever since he killed Darwin in a knife fight to the death, the 33-year-old Rakkim has experienced strange sensations.
When intelligence picks up activity in the Bible Belt, specifically the movement of troops and equipment to a mountain range, and all of it organized by Colonel Smitts, Kingsley dispatches Rakkim to find out what is going on, and neutralize the threat. Two possibilities enter the picture: either the Catholic Southern colonel has discovered hidden gold and silver treasure; or he has located the long-buried position of Black Ice, a rumored “Holy Grail of advanced weaponry,” developed by the old U.S. government prior to its collapse. Anyone who manages to get their hands on these advanced weaponry systems could effectively rule the world. A 19-year-old Jewish computer wiz named Leo joins Rakkim on his undercover mission to the South. Leo is capable of downloading information by touch (“My fingertips are permeated with organic silicone, converting them into ion traps”) and uploading it into his brain -- which is good, because Leo remembers everything (“Most people only use five percent of their brains. I’m what happens when you use the other ninety-five.”). Although Rakkim has always enjoyed his forays into the Bible Belt, the encounters that he and Leo undergo in these pages are bizarre and deadly, especially when they come across Malcolm Crews and his psychopathic End Time Army. Crews is a former English professor and born-again, given to drinking turpentine and handling venomous snakes. After Rakkim infiltrates the colonel’s camp, he finds the Southern military officer to be gallant, fair and logical, and not really a threat to the republic, as he sees it. The colonel seems equally concerned that Black Ice not fall into the wrong hands. Of more sinister bearing are the colonel’s sex-crazed wife, Baby, and his aide-de-camp, Lester Gravenholtz, a sadistic man with a carbon armored sheath implanted beneath his natural skin. Neither of these characters possesses the colonel’s moral bearings.
While Book One was perhaps more politically jarring than Sins of the Assassin, given the closer proximity its publication had to America’s involvement in Iraq and the backdrop of September 11, 2001, Book Two has moved past the uniqueness of an American Islamic state, and it focuses instead on the republic’s sheer survival. And its survival is in doubt, no doubt about that. Having been flushed out of the Nevada Free State, the Muslim Old One is ensconced on a luxury cruise liner at sea, but his reach is long and deadly. His goal of controlling the Islamic Republic still burns hotly, and he has a diabolical plan in the works. Meanwhile, President Kingsley is negotiating with the Aztlan (Mexican) Empire to sell its government more land in the southwest for ready and desperately needed cash. What comes across in Book Two is that the republic doesn’t seem so extraordinary -- it wages covert operations, it has economic woes and it is extremely vulnerable to outside threats. The bravado and derring-do of Rakkim and Sarah gives the reader hope, but it will be interesting to see whether the republic can sustain its insularity, or perhaps have to make significant compromises to outside interests, such as to Colonel Smitts and his Catholic constituency.
Sins of the Assassin deftly mixes politics, religion and science-fiction elements into a pulsating thriller. Although the story line never gets bogged down, the repartee between Rakkim and computer genius Leo tends to become mildly distracting, and lush character expositions slow the tempo. Still, there isn’t a single moment when the reader is not entertained and engrossed in this new novel. Protagonist Rakkim Epps is being transformed before the reader’s eyes. He is not sure what is right or wrong anymore: he finds so-called enemies in the Bible Belt to be more friendly and interesting, than those in Islamic America care to recognize. He is increasingly unnerved by his deadly skills and begins to question what he’s asked to do on behalf of his government. And the Old One will not stop until he has killed Rakkim and Sarah and taken full control of Islamic America.
Book Three has large challenges confronting it and significant plot lines to resolve. One thing I’m sure of, though: the talents of Seattle-area author Robert Ferrigno, and the robustness of his characters, will undoubtedly make for another whirlwind read. | March 2008
Anthony Rainone is a contributing editor of January Magazine, a regular contributor to The Rap Sheet, a frequent books critic for Nebraska’s Lincoln Journal Star and the author of a blog called Anthony Rainone’s Criminal Thoughts.