Tom Hinshelwood's first novel is a winner. This is an old-fashioned spy thriller that truly does remind me of early Robert Ludlum, as Publisher's Weekly noted, it even has the same short-comings. Ludlum could create a thrill a minute plot and pace it at a dead run start to finish, but other than Jason Bourne, he couldn't create memorable characters. That's the same problem here, and what kept the book from 5*. It also keeps it from the list of Best First Thriller, which is still held by Rain Fall by Barry Eisler. (To bad Eisler's taken a detour down soapbox editorial row on his latest book.)
The Killer, set in Europe and Africa, has at its heart the well used plot of turning the hunter into the hunted. Certainly not new or novel, but so well done you can't help getting completely drawn into the race to the death. The Killer, 'Victor at the start then 'Tesseract' about a third of the way into the book. Even at the end you aren't sure if it's his real name or not. It suits the character who has, in many ways, erased himself from life. No connections, no ties, nothing he can't leave and never look back.
An assassin for hire, Tesseract usually works through brokers so neither he no those who hire him ever know each other. The level of tradecraft is good and lends the story a suitably realistic atmosphere, though not quite as compelling as that in the John Rain books. After he does a job in Paris, everything falls apart in no time. A group of killers are waiting for him at his hotel. Eluding them won't be an option, so he must kill them. And so begins the story that sees Tesseract unraveling the trail back to who hired him then tried to have killed, while those responsible hire another assassin to eliminate even remote connections because they know he will come for him. I did like the Maltese Falcon style twist at the end.
The cast of characters is large and the and most interesting one, other than Tesseract, is the well hidden, utterly amoral, scheming bad guy. The climax of two top notch assassins each trying to kill the other is excellent. This really is a must read for any fan of Ludlum style thrillers with a convoluted plot, but not all that well developed characters.