Saturday, September 5, 2015

Hitman: The Enemy Within review

    Hitman: The Enemy Within is a Expanded Universe novel of the Hitman video game franchise. Much like the movies, it attempts to add much-needed depth to the character of Agent 47, the International Contract Agency (ICA), and the universe which our anti-hero operates. As much as I've come to love the Hitman universe in the short time I've been a fan, I've got to say I was very grateful for some expansion beyond the role of killer and killed.

    The premise is one of the ICA's board members, Aristotle Thorakis, is close to bankruptcy despite being a billionaire. A thinly-disguised Aristotle Onassis, Thorakis seeks out a means of maintaining his lavish position and this unwittingly leads him to the Agency's enemies in Puissance Treize ("Power Thirteen" in French). Aristotle is given a 500 million euro loan in exchange for information which will allow them to eliminate the Agency's top earners, including the inhumanly gifted Agent 47. 47 survives the initial attempt on his life, which starts him on a globe-trotting adventure to find the traitor so he can get back down to business--as well as save his handler Diana from being framed for Thorakis' crimes.

    William C. Dietz has a good grasp on 47's character with a man who is the consummate professional in all things. 47 has no human connections so he exists almost in isolation of the rest of the world, observing it from an outsider's perspective and soaking in the details of a loner who doesn't need friends or family. Much of the book focuses on 47's love of food and local culture, which is an interesting take but makes sense given he's not interested in sex or companionship.

    Perhaps because Agent 47 isn't the most talkative protagonist, we get him from the perspective of his antagonists to get the bulk of the novel's emotional core. I was very fond of Puissance Treize assassin Marla who, after failing to kill 47, decides to do anything to survive his wrath. This leads to some rather despicable decisions on her part but, by the time 47 catches up with her, your sympathy is as much with her as our erstwhile antihero. Much of the novel tends to treat 47 like the Terminator, an unstoppable force no one can really impede from his target and that's a really interesting take on the character.

    I also appreciated much of the supporting cast, including well-realized interpretation of series mainstays Father Vittorio and Diana Burnwood. Diana, in particular, gets portrayed with a strong will that never bends even when in an extremely compromising position. The character doesn't play a big role in the novel but from what we see, she's sexy, intelligent, confident, and charismatic. I also liked Mister Nu, another ally for 47 in the Agency, and wish he would show up in the games.

    Dietz realizes that ninety-percent of 47's skill is in staying hidden and the best part of the book's action sequences are when he's planning his elaborate takedowns. These include some truly interesting ways of dispatching his foes, straight from the video games, like a piano-wire decapitation of a motorcycle gang member, and the all-too-realistic peanut allergy poisoning. Watching 47 plan his meticulously crafted hits is much better than a novel focusing on him pulling out his pistols to go John Woo on his enemies.

    The book makes a couple of missteps. For example, not believing we're going to hate Puissance Treize enough to want to see them destroyed for being assassins out to get our protagonist, the author makes one of their leaders a pedophile running a ring of them. While it's gratifying to see 47 do an almost-afterthought rescue of the tykes, the entire thing smacks of trying too hard. Likewise, when 47 doesn't kill one of his targets belonging to this child-slavery ring, you think he's being too merciful. There's also a few plots left hanging, which seem to be setting up a sequel which never came. This is unfortunate since I really enjoy Dietz's writing style.

    Some readers may be put off by the fact 47 is portrayed as a man who has almost no redeeming features other than his professionalism. His only decent act occurs almost toward the end of the book and his perspective is of a man devoid of any sympathy for his fellow human beings. This is strange as the book references Father Vittorio and shows Agent 47 still maintains strong feelings toward his former mentor. Despite this, I don't think this is an inaccurate portrayal of 47 as he's always displayed a near-total amorality.

    In conclusion, this is a really fun book and I think fans of the franchise will enjoy it. Much of the world-building absent from the main games is present here and I wouldn't have been averse to seeing characters from this book return. Sadly, this is a "one and done" sort of deal and the only other legal Hitman novel is by a different author.


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