- Calling Mr. King by Ronald De Feo
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Other Press (August 30, 2011)
- ISBN-13: 978-1590514757
Back-of-the-book blurb: Long considered cool, distant, and absolutely reliable, an American-born hit man, working throughout Europe, grows increasingly distracted and begins to develop an unexpected passion for architecture and art while engaged in his deadly profession. Although he welcomes this energizing break from his routine, he comes to realize that it is an unwise trajectory for a man in his business, particularly when he is sent on the most difficult job of his career.
Set in London, Paris, New York, and Barcelona, this novel is both a colorful suspense tale (laced with dark humor), and a psychological self-portrait of a character who is attempting, against the odds, to become someone else.
She Is Too Fond of Books’ review: From the opening pages, I was pulled into this novel about a hit man going through a mid-life crisis. Rather than carry out a hit with his usual precision, “Mr. King” (the code name used when he is called for a contract) gets distracted by the “charm” (his word) of a country estate, and leaves a bit of a mess (not his usual style). Mr. King starts to question what he does – not the morality of it, but the urgency and importance of it.
Encouraged by The Boss to take a little down time, this American in London spends his time doing research, delving a little deeper into the charm of the country building that caught his eye. What is it about the Georgian style that appeals to him? Is it the symmetry and predictability (quite unlike his own life), or the subtle differences in decoration from one example to another – somewhat like the distinction of the various “marks” he has known over the years.
Mr. King is himself and utterly charming character. Yes, I just called a cold-blooded killer charming! He starts to show a little personality, a little curiosity, a little humanity. What reader wouldn’t be charmed by a man who describes a visit to a bookstore:
… Yes, my question – “Do you have anything on Georgian houses?” – was respected. In fact, a few of the clerks were unusually pleased by it, as if I’d hit on a pet subject or one that didn’t interest your average, run-of-the-mill customer. One clerk, a skinny wound-up character with four pens in his ink-stained shirt pocket, was particularly impressed and was crazily eager to show off his knowledge. He rattled off names of books, authors, publishers, publication dates. He evaluated the “volumes,” talked about their “historical accuracy and scope,” their “intellectual breadth” and “prose style” … “What I want to know,” I finally said, interrupting his lecture, “is if you carry any of those books. That’s what I want to know. If you have any of them here, now, in this store, today.” “Right, yes, of course,” he said, sounding somewhat hurt. “Well, let’s take a look, sir, shall we?” And we pranced over to the art and architecture section.
Granted, a more pleasant browsing experience would have been nicer for Mr. King, but a guy who kills people for a living might deserve a little discomfort. He’s excited about reading, eager to follow his spark of interest to discover greater things about the world. And the reader of Calling Mr. King will find himself eager eager to learn more about this hit man with a soft spot.
The novel is told in the first person, allowing the reader access to the thoughts of Mr. King, be they self-indulgent, self-deceptive, or, truly insightful. We walk with him on his turning-point hit, as he studies art and architecture, and as he discovers the real “Mr. King” and the consequences of his choices. It’s a fun walk.