Thursday, May 22, 2014

I Am the Weapon by Allen Zadoff

Main character:  16-year-old Ben (or is it Zach?)
Location: Manhattan
Time period: Contemporary
Genre:  YA Fiction, Thriller, Action/Adventure

Ben is a trained killer, an assassin.  His age is his advantage--who would suspect a teenager?  When he is assigned a target, he gets to the target through a son or a daughter (preferably a son--girls are difficult to predict), infiltrating the school, spending months becoming close enough to the family to strike.  His preferred weapon is a pen that delivers a toxin that mimics a heart attack. Assignment done, he slips away, to emerge in another place with another name, enrolling in another school to befriend another child of a powerful, possibly traitorous man.

Now Ben is given a new assignment, but this one is very different.  He doesn't have months, he has five days to get close to the daughter of the mayor of New York so he can kill her father.  Trouble is, he likes her.  And he likes her dad.  When he misses two perfect opportunities, his handlers have to ask--is Ben losing his touch?  Can he still be trusted to complete his job?

In a lot of ways this book, the first of a series, reminded me of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Ryder books.  Those, of course, were based on the James Bond series, and Alex knew that what he was doing was in service of his country and rarely was his assignment specifically to kill someone.  Ben has been trained to kill, though he, too, thinks that he is serving his country.  He is told that his targets are either about to betray the United States or through their actions cause harm to the U.S.

Throughout this assignment, Ben is reminded of his own father and his own grief on learning of his father's "questionable loyalties" and subsequent death.  The organization became his new family, with his handlers being referred to as Mother and Dad.  But is what he remembers really the truth, or part of the indoctrination he was put through?

I really enjoyed this book.  On one level there is all the clandestine details--the drop points, the coded messages on the smart phone.  On another level is using Ben's memories to fill in his history.  Then there is Ben himself who is likeable (for a killer.)  He is not a cold-blooded killing machine, but a smart, introspective kid.  It's easy to see how both the mayor's daughter and her best friend are attracted to him.  Okay, there are times when I question whether a teenager, or an adult for that matter, can think as fast, move as fast, or fight as hard, as Ben does, but that's what makes a thriller a nice piece of escapism.   

I read I Am the Weapon as a e-ARC from Net Galley.

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