Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Trade Paperback – 26 July 2022)
Series: Standalone/Book One
Length: 409 pages
My Rating: 4.5. out of 5 stars
Acclaimed screenwriter John Brownlow presents one of the most entertaining and awesome debuts of 2022 with the compelling action thriller, Seventeen: Last Man Standing.
In the shadowy world of contract killers, assassins, and rogue operatives, the man at the top of the totem pole is simply known by a number. For over 100 years, these elite assassins have kept the world in order by committing kills for every government, no questions asked. Sixteen individuals have previously held the title as world’s greatest assassin during this time, and the current holder of the title is Seventeen. Feared by every killer around the world, Seventeen knows that his career can end at any moment, as it only takes one mistake for an ambitious assassin to take his place and become Eighteen.
After completing a mysterious job in Berlin, Seventeen finds himself at a crossroads, concerned about his future and considering his past. However, everything is put on hold when his handler gives him startling clues that hint that his predecessor, Sixteen, who had vanished without a trace, is still alive. The only way for Seventeen to keep his position in the assassination hierarchy is to kill the man who held the title before him, and if he refuses every assassin in the world will be on his back. Tracking Sixteen to a location in the middle of nowhere, South Dakota, Seventeen finds his target hidden in a fortress, and must try to find a way to kill the only assassin the world who might be better than him.
As he plans for what might be his greatest kill, Seventeen finds himself caught between all manner of complications. Not only is his target near perfectly protected, but he soon finds himself falling for a girl in the local town. Worse, it appears that his latest job may have been a setup, and now Seventeen finds himself one of the most wanted men in the world. Caught between his deadly predecessor and every assassin and government agency on the planet, can Seventeen once again prove that he’s the best in the world, or is someone about to take his title and become Eighteen?
Brownlow presents an exciting and captivating read with his debut novel, Seventeen (also titled Seventeen: Last Man Standing), which I had an amazing time reading. Featuring an action-packed and incredibly fast-paced story, I ended up powering through Seventeen in a bit over a day, and I had a fantastic time doing so.
I absolutely loved Seventeen’s outstanding narrative, which pits rival assassins against each other in an entertaining and impressive fight for survival. The story is primarily told from the perspective of Seventeen, who is recounting his adventures to the reader. Starting off with a brutal mass assassination, you quickly get a handle on the protagonist, his skills and his quirky style, as he commits several murders, before getting involved in another job. From there, he finds himself coerced into finally hunting down and killing his missing predecessor, Sixteen, to secure his reputation. Forced to find a way around Sixteen’s elaborate security, Seventeen starts to grow close to a woman in the local town, while also considering his future and the potential fallout from his last mission. At the same time, there are a ton of flashbacks to Seventeen’s tragic past, which show how he became a killer and his road to becoming the world’s top assassin. Seventeen’s eventual attempt on Sixteen leads to a massive confrontation, where nothing goes the way you think it will. There are some great confrontations in the second half of the book, and the fights between Sixteen and Seventeen are pretty damn epic. Throw in some dangerous outside interference and a massive conspiracy, and you are left with an excellent and powerful narrative that you really struggle to put down, even if it is very, very late at night.
Brownlow did a wonderful job setting his story out, and it was designed to keep your constant attention. I have already talked about how much I enjoyed the fast pace of this book, and there are literally no slow spots during this read as the protagonist is constantly recounting action, spycraft, fun interactions, character development or flashbacks to his tragic past, all of which proves to be extremely entertaining. The author makes excellent use of a substantial number of shorter chapters, which really helps with the pacing, as you are more likely to decide to keep reading for another chapter when it is only a few pages away. This, combined with the exceptionally written and highly detailed fight sequences, really keeps your eyes attached to the page. There are a ton of highly cinematic action scenes in this book, including shootouts, car chases, hand-to-hand fights, and even a bad encounter with a bear, which were very fun to read. I also loved the fantastic depictions of assassination tradecraft contained within this book, and Brownlow provides an intriguing look at the protagonist’s preparations, as well as the unique methods he uses to find his target. There are some very fun moments featuring the protagonist’s attempts to get close to Sixteen, and Brownlow writes a very entertaining story around death and assassination. All this action and quick-paced writing melds well with the author’s excellent sense of humour, and there a ton of great jokes, entertaining observations and unusual situations that add a good comedic edge to much of the book. These elements, as well as an outstanding central protagonist, really increased my enjoyment of the narrative, and I cannot emphasise enough how quickly I was able to fly through this book.
Finally, I rather enjoyed the fantastic characters contained within this book, as Brownlow writes an excellent story around them. Naturally, the attention is primarily on the titular Seventeen, who tells most of the story. Seventeen is a very enjoyable character to follow and I grew attached to him very quickly. As smooth and talented as any movie assassin or action hero you are likely to find, Brownlow adds in some interesting personality traits that worked really well. Not only does he have a brilliant sense of humour, which really comes across in the first-person writing style, but there is also a notable bit of weariness at the assassination lifestyle deep within him, which starts to drag at him as the book continues. Despite a successful life as a killer, he is starting to regret some of his more recent actions, and this change of mindset becomes a key part of his character arc, especially when other dangerous individuals start to sense it. Brownlow also comes up with a suitably tragic and compelling backstory for Seventeen, which is slowly revealed to the reader as the novel continues. This backstory was pretty deep and traumatic, and it helps you to bond even more with Seventeen, once you see all the terrible things that drove him into his current career, and these elements really help cement him as an amazing and flawed central protagonist. Additional characters I need to highlight include Sixteen, who serves as a fantastic foil to Seventeen, especially as he has the veteran instincts and a much more defined sense of cynicism, while also being haunted by the ghosts of his past. I also deeply enjoyed the female leads of Kat and Barb, who serve an interesting role in the book. While they are primarily used as damsels in distress for most of the book, Brownlow does add in some fantastic backstory and gives them each their own defining moments, which I enjoyed. Plus, both are the biggest critics of the two main assassins in this book, and their fun takes on their deadly rivalry are pretty entertaining. These characters, and more, add a great deal to the plot, and I enjoyed getting to know them here.
Overall, Seventeen was a pretty awesome novel that I had an epic time reading. John Brownlow’s outstanding debut had all the action, adventure and fun characters you could ask for, and I found Seventeen to be quite an addictive read. I look forward to seeing what this intriguing new author presents in the future, and I have a feeling that Brownlow is going to be an exciting voice in thriller fiction for years to come.