Spark by John Twelves Hawks
I just finished reading Spark by John Twelve Hawks. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Spark and so didn’t really start reading with any particular expectations of where I would be led, just more a sense of curiosity to find out more about this ‘assassin who believes he’s dead’! Who wouldn’t you be curious about that?? And, I enjoyed this. It’s very readable and it keeps you hanging on waiting to find out more.
The main protagonist is Jacob Underwood. Following a serious motorcycle accident Jacob suffered brain damage and now has a rare neurological condition whereby he believes himself to be dead. Known as Cotard’s syndrome – as I understand it Jacob believes his ‘spark’ is now unconnected, merely contained within a human unit which needs a certain level of sustenance in order to maintain functionality. Jacob is an odd character. People usually feel afraid of him without knowing why exactly and in order to blend into society he has a few simple rules that he abides by – such as ‘wash each day’ or ‘cut your hair and nails each month’. He consumes approximately 2,000 calories in the form of a nutritional drink (as he doesn’t enjoy eating). He has no interactions with people other than his employer, quite often thinks in colour and cannot abide anyone touching him. He actually behaves sort of like a robot which is a little ironic given the world in which he lives.
The setting is easy to imagine. Futuristic, urban, dystopia. ‘Nubots’ have succeeded in pushing much of the population out of jobs and onto the borderline of survival and underground movements have arisen as a result. The population are controlled massively by ID cards and surveillance cameras. Big Brother is definitely watching and on top of this most people seem to have something called a ‘shadow’ which not only provides information as and when required but also seems to become more to the user almost providing advice and frankly become a bit dictatorial for some users.
Jacob works for a large banking corporation, he’s part of the Special Services division. He’s an assassin, terminating more than just bank accounts as and when required. And, he’s the perfect fit for this role. He can’t be reasoned with. He has no empathy or sympathy. He simply performs the task for which he has been engaged in the most organised way possible. There is no right or wrong or moral ambiguity. He simply gets on with the job. He has killed many people without the least doubt or regret. He is literally like a machine. He’s the terminator but with a pulse. On top of that, his belief that he’s already dead lends him a very devil may care attitude in terms of his own personal safety. Although, strangely, he loves dogs above all else!
We start the story with a brief insight into how Jacob lives. Let’s say he’s not painting the tiles red here. His apartment is minimalist. He walks round in a circle which helps keep him calm and sometimes he likes to go out and walk over the Brooklyn Bridge! He has no friends and no distractions. Very simple. His employer is Ms Holquist. She’s ruthless – driven by ambition and without the excuse of any ‘syndrome’ she could be the long lost great, great, great, great niece of the White Witch! Jacob may be the killer but Ms Holquist is undoubtedly the baddie of the piece.
Anyway, this is the strange thing. The writing is almost clinical. There is no flowery descriptions and the book is Jacob’s story, related by himself in an unemotional and honest way. You’d expect to be repelled by him and yet his circumstances, both past and present, give you a strange almost liking of him. It’s odd to get my head around to be honest. He’s basically a killer so I would expect to really dislike him and yet I find his other associates and Miss Holquist a lot more repugnant (probably because he doesn’t take any job satisfaction from his work whereas they do). And, I wanted things to change for him. I wanted him to have a chance. Odd, but there you go.
The actual plot of the story starts when Miss Holquist discovers that Jacob is capable of more than she originally believed. She’s going to expand his remit to take on more, however, there’s a reason for the saying ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’! And so starts the story.
This is just simply a compelling read. You start the story just wanting to know what happened to Jacob and from there onwards it becomes difficult to put the book down. On top of that you end up feeling for a character that you never imagined you would do which is very clever of the author I think!
I didn’t really have any criticisms although I would point out that there are a few scenes of violence and torture – it’s not over the top or gratuitous but just be aware is all.
I received a copy of this from the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.
Submitted on Goodreads and also as one of my reads for Stainless Steel Droppings RIP event – it’s certainly dark enough to make that list!
Now, important things – which cover do you like the best: