I accompanied Mlle. NiceWork to our new dentist in beautiful downtown Burbank. Her appointment, not mine. First visits to medicine men entail lots of form-filling, as you know, and if the medicine man specializes in those little skull bones we “dudes” are so pleased to see flashing at us from the mouths of pretty women, then the visit also means the scrubbing of those bones and the zapping of those bones with x-rays.
Which is to say: I had ample time to inspect the little waiting room in which I was obliged to remain. A tiny room: 45 seconds would have done for me to eyeball it thoroughly. But did I fret as the minutes shuffled by, chained at the ankles, their tools on their shoulders, singing a low, bluesy moan? No. Nor did I need to take cold comfort in the printed diversions spread out on a corner table, as seen in the photo above. No ESPN magazine for my idle hours; no Reader’s Digest to cheer me with its “Humor in Uniform” drolleries; no tell-all dissection of touchy Christian Bale in GQ to sour my mind; and, God help us, absolutely no eye-popping pamphlet on Gum Disease. I waved these distractions away, for I had foreseen the downtime and prudently carried a book with me: Heart of the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno.
What sort of book is Heart of the Assassin, you ask? Well, it’s a novel, you will be relieved to learn. Right-thinking individuals will be even more delighted to learn it is an action-thriller-stabalot novel. Even wiser individuals will already be in the know about Ferrigno’s near-future trilogy of which Heart makes the third volume. They will already have studied Prayers for the Assassin and Sins of the Assassin. They will know the story of Rakkim Epps, the titular fedayeen; that his tale is set in a nasty near future, only decades away, in which the former United States has broken into pieces, the largest being the “Islamic Republic.” These wise readers will know of the assorted independent nation-states like “Nueva Florida” and the “Mormon Territories,” and my favorite, “New Fallujah” (formerly San Francisco). They will already have ventured with our hero into the “Bible Belt” (formerly the Bible Belt), a Christian nation — and an inveterate enemy of Rakkim’s Islamic Republic.
All these balkanized USA bits do not lie alongside each other peaceably, as you might imagine. Religious feelings run a little hot and come equipped with cool futuristic weapons. That’s why Rakkim: Assassination is just another part of the price of doing business in this admittedly brave, but way way bellicose, new world. To make bad things worse, the pot is being stirred behind the scenes by an arch-villain, the “Old One.” He’s a Methusalah-aged imam who has been messing with geo-poliitcs — to hasten a worldwide caliphate — since the 19th century. Vastly wealthy, he prolongs his life with every known organ replacement and youth enhancer petrodollars can buy, and when he’s not having his blood renewed he’s contriving intricate plots to keep Rakkim fully employed by his Islamic Republic masters.
What’s the novel like? Here’s what it’s like:
Rakkim, at one point in the story, must search through the ruins of Washington D.C. for… well, something vital; read the book. The old capitol is still lethally radioactive from the “Old One’s” dirty bomb that wiped out all life there decades earlier. To wander through the place and come out with his old, familiar DNA intact, Rakkim requires the help of the proud, but cancerously short-lived natives who live outside the radioactive zone, but who continuously enter it in “rad-suits” (i.e. radiation suits) to plunder it for saleable items. They’re hill-people who refuse to leave their beloved land despite the murderous roentgen count of nearby D.C.. Besides, the dirty bomb left most of the buildings intact — although the Washington Monument is now aslant like the Leaning Tower of Pisa — and filled with pricey collectibles available to the first taker.
So. Rakkim is a guest in the shabby house of some of these ornery “Zombies” — that is, Appalachian salvagers — whom he happens to like a great deal; he admires their grit and patriotism. While drinking a valuable Coca Cola given him in the spirit of hospitality…
Rakkim walked over to the family photographs that lined one whole wall. Photographs, not holograms, some of them ancient black-and-whites too. Poor folk in their Sunday best, kids behind the wheels of trucks, hard-eyed men and suspicious women, two young men in homemade rad-suits pretending to hold up the Washington Monument.
Isn’t that a perfect detail: the joke snapshot of the guys holding up the building? That‘s what the book is like.
Heart of the Assassin
by Robert Ferrigno
(Scribner Book Company, Hardcover, 368pp.)
Prayers for the Assassin 1st Volume
by Robert Ferrigno
(Pocket Books, Mass Market Paperback, 496pp.)
Sins of the Assassin 2nd Volume
by Robert Ferrigno
(Pocket Star Books, Mass Market Paperback, 447pp.)