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Bookends: The rehabilitation of an assassin February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Mark Dawson, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The rehabilitation of an assassinThe Cleaner

By Dan Davidson

March 15, 2017

– 812 words –


The Cleaner

By Mark Dawson

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Amazon Digital Services LLC

314 pages in paperback


Kindle version



The Cleaner is the first in a series of novels about John Milton, a master assassin for the British government who has finally, after 130 or so kills, burned out – or acquired a conscience.

Here we begin with Milton’s last assignment, in which he kills three targets in cold blood and then finds himself unable to kill the woman’s young son. It is his epiphany and leads him to a conclusion that Control, the head of Group 15, is not prepared to accept. For Control, Milton is his Number One Cleaner, or he is useless, and too dangerous to let run loose. He may have to be decommissioned, in the bloodless deflective terminology of the agency.

The story continues with a sequence that reminded me bit of the silent cold opening from the late 60s British cult TV series, The Prisoner. In that sequence, Patrick McGoohan’s character, who seemed to have stepped right out of his earlier series, Danger Man (Secret Agent on American television), resigns from the British Secret Service and storms out of his boss’s office.

Hours later he is gassed unconscious at his flat and transported to an island home for defective spies, where he spends the next 12 or 13 episodes (this was one of the first mini-series) trying to escape.

So, to put it more bluntly, Milton will have to be put down if he doesn’t change his mind. Control would probably have loved to be able to use the solution from The Prisoner.

Milton’s second epiphany is when the black woman jumps down onto the tracks in the underground with the apparent intention of letting herself be run down by the approaching coaches. He saves her at some risk to his own life, and that act determines his immediate future.

Sharon has a son, Elijah. He’s beginning to mix with a bad lot and Sharon feels like she’s failed him, as she has failed at so many things and with so any people in her life. Milton has decided that his action obligates him to protect this woman and her teenage son, and determines that he will clean up the project neighbourhood. He rents a house, cases the area, finds an ally in a former soldier who runs a boxing club for local boys, and begins to build a relationship with the lad.

He’s not very good at it, and when he and Sharon finally spend the night together, Elijah, who was beginning to warm to him, assumes he is just another “John” using him to get to his mother’s bed.

After that, things get seriously nasty. Milton has to deal with a gangland rapper called Risky Bizness, as well as cope with the fact that he is being hunted by another Group 15 agent, who has orders to kill him.

The story is economical in its prose style and effective in its characterizations and action scenes.

If it appears odd that Milton doesn’t seem to anticipate the level of retaliatory violence that the rapper is prepared to use to protect his turf and his rep, that might be explained by the clandestine nature of his former occupation. His has been a clinical profession in which matters of weapons, ambush, preparation and invisibility were key components. He doesn’t seem to have spent a lot of time dealing with people except as targets.

The advertising surrounding the series is a bit misleading. Milton is compared to Jack Reacher. Not that Reacher never assassinated anyone, but those deaths were executions as part of his service as an MP and involved people who had committed serious crimes, rather that simply being foreign policy inconveniences, as Milton’s targets were at the beginning of this book.

Milton’s going to be footloose, as far as I can see, but he’s also going to be on the run. The second novel begins with a series of agency memos summarizing what has already happened and recommending further action.

It also appears that this series is going to march on in chronological order, whereas Lee Child has his character jump all over his lifeline.

At the start Milton does come across as the sort of blunt instrument that Ian Fleming’s rendition of James Bond was (as opposed to the various movie incarnations), but you can see that he is beginning to change by the end of this book, and it may be interesting to see how he develops.

Dawson has self-published this book and the other nine in the series, plus a bunch of other books during the last several years, and my copy of The Cleaner came as part of an eight book ebundle from Kindle.