By Eric Jerome Dickey

Dutton | 2014 | 451 pages

Reviewed by Robert Fleming


A regular on the New York Times bestseller list, Eric Jerome Dickey has had a knack for transforming fictional genres, turning them on their heads, and making them his own creations. This is what he has done with his latest entry, A Wanted Woman, where the author has re-casted an old Hollywood plot device, colorized it, and sent it into unknown territory.

Now the story is this: a contract killer from the West Indies has botched a hit and is now hunted by murderous, cut-throat Trinidadian hoods. There is nothing new about this. The pursued killer, named MX-401 but known as Reaper by her colleagues, was selected to do a Trinidad contract, but that went awry and her inept hit on a Trini-Indian lawmaker was captured on tape. Her employers, the Barbarians, do what anyone does when something goes south. They deny everything and instruct their hired killer to go on the run. And she does, with an insecure safe house, no papers, no funds, no contacts.

Trained by her father, the lethal assassin, Old Man Reaper, of Barbados, she should have completed her mission without difficulty, but as she infiltrated the gang, the Laventille Killers (the LKs), who guard the politician, she is compelled to kill the target in a bank. That is where everything unravels. Although not every character is totally fleshed out sufficiently, Dickey gives the reader much needed back story, motive, and reflection from a female heroine with not much to admire her for.

Known for his popular Gideon series, Dickey is interested in building on the momentum in increased readership generated by the exploits of the dreaded assassin-in-hire in four early works: Sleeping With Strangers (April 2007), Waking With Enemies (August 2007), Dying For Revenge (November 2008) and Resurrecting Midnight (August 2009). He knew the clamor of his faithful fans to recreate the male killing machine with all of his cunning and virility. Again, the author decided to trump all of his previous Gideon efforts by introducing a female with all of the savage, deadpan attributes of her fictional counterpart.

Dickey can write pounding action, bone crushing violence, and murder most foul and hardboiled. He shares this trait with his other modern noir craftsmen such as Sandford, Connelly, Mosley, and Kellerman, with fast, brutal results.

In smooth, glossy fashion, Dickey turns up the heat: “She looked my way and without pause I threw a hard punch into the center of her nose. Her drink fell and she wobbled in her shoes. Blood gushed. On the heels of the first blow I dug in and threw a right hook to her solar plexus. Her hands dropped from her bloodied face to grab her new pain. One of the girls ran to save her and was met with a spinning back kick that hit her gut and lifted her in the air before she dropped in agony.” (pg. 36)

While the bloodletting quota is turned up, way up, the amount of kiss-and-tell escapades are decreased. Some fans will let down, for smoldering sex was stock-and trade in Dickey’s previous books. Still, the author can work up a torrid fever when he wants. “I worked him until my lips parted, made myself open, cringed and did a slow and sensual booty roll, rolled against his gyrating groin, felt what was stiff become stiffer, sat down on him too hard, too abruptly, and clenched my teeth. My left leg began to quiver.”

The Dickey formula comes from a life well lived, beginning with the Memphis native moving to Los Angeles to try his hand in engineering. His ambition was not satisfied so he moved to the aerospace industry as a software developer, then he transitioned to become an actor and a comedian. Then the writing bug bit him and his first novel, Sister, Sister, debuted in 1996, bringing him acclaim.

The following books, Friends and Lovers, Milk in My Coffee, Cheaters and Liar’s Game all went to the top of the bestsellers lists, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. His later novels, Tempted By Trouble, An Accidental Affair, and Decadence have sold over a million copies each. He also wrote a screenplay, Cappuccino, which played in Los Angeles in 1998. Younger fans are familiar with his creation of a six-issue series of graphic novels for Marvel featuring Storm of the X-Men and the Black Panther. Very busy man.

Back to this novel, Dickey’s 22nd book, the author has Reaper explore her inner terrain, her need to connect, her desire to belong. This is an added asset to the harsh proceedings here, as she delves into her Caribbean roots, linking up with one of her father’s daughters. The half-sister, another killer-for-hire, gives Reaper work when her checks from her bosses are delayed. It is through her and her sinister bloodline that Reaper peels away the layers of her Bajan culture and traditions.

Caution: the soaring body count, the horrific torture scenes, and gang rape may not be everybody’s cup of tea. However, Reaper, the savvy, chatty female assassin’s bloody triumph over the opposition will have you cheering yet embarrassed by the large doses of mayhem and slaughter much as the popular Bourne and Jack Reacher novels do. There is a sequel required here.

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