Thursday, March 29, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Hitman: The Enemy Within

Hitman: The Enemy Within (William C. Dietz)  

               Hitman: The Enemy Within is the official tie in novel of the Hitman franchise. It details a traitor within the Agency, the nebulous organization that Agent 47 works for, and features a globe spanning quest to bring the traitor to justice. Along the way 47 does his usual killing thing, in a multitude of interesting ways. Though the novel does a good job of exploring 47's past and reinventing his techniques (especially the disguises) so that they feel more realistic, it suffers from an absolutely terrible writing style that is extremely detail heavy, bland at the best of times and downright hard to read in most circumstances.
            The novel starts with 47 performing a routine hit on a gang leader in Washington state. The hit goes awry, and we are introduced to the primary antagonist for the first two thirds of the story, fellow assassin Marla Norton. Norton and her sub plot play an important role, serving as a foil to 47 and providing the only remotely formidable opposition in the entire book. Bizarrely enough, Norton disappears from the plot after an encounter with 47 2/3rds through the book, and her entire sub plot and character are never revisited or referenced again. This is particularly disappointing because she was the only marginally interesting point of view character that wasn't 47. Everyone else is far too underdeveloped or unimportant to be of interest, and the author has a terrible habit of bringing in random point of view characters for a scene or two. Some of these are silly and stereotypical (lots of one off guard point of views who are focused on other things and just happen to miss our protagonist,) while others are downright cheesy (a child slave who is suffering while "millions of people slept.") These are immature and poorly written in the best circumstances, and do nothing to bolster the book's limited cast. I don't really have a problem with the Hitman novel having such a limited cast- 47 is the only real draw in the entire series, and that is no different here. We get brief cameos by his handler, Diana, but for the most part he is on his own. That doesn't bother me, but all of the random characters thrown in for a scene or two to provide different perspectives do little to improve the novel..
            Speaking of 47, he is relatively well characterized here. He remains the immoral, professional assassin who more often than not manages to accidentally do moral things (such as saving the aforementioned slave children from their fate as fodder for pedophiles.) We also get some background detail on his early life in the laboratory with his fellow clones, which includes the story of his first kill. These stories add a bit of background to a mostly ambiguous character and are probably the only positives about the entire story. Another pleasing aspect is the new way in which 47 disguises himself, including prosthesis, makeup, and wigs. Disguises are an important aspect of the game, but they aren't nearly as meticulous as described here. Another enjoyable aspect was exploring 47's thought process as he planned the book's climactic hit. Again, the process was far more careful than what you can get out of the games, and it was enjoyable to see him take so many things into account.
            Taking things into account is something this book does well, too well in fact. There are so many pointless details in setting, technology, and physical features that the relatively short book is actually rather challenging to finish. We get descriptions of rooms, piece by piece descriptions of just about everybody's outfit,  technical outlines of weapons and vehicles, 47's taste in food/restaurants (???) and pointless culture details of each of the four or five lifeless settings visited throughout the book. Mix that in with simplistic, repetitive sentence structure, primitive vocabulary, and clumsy metaphors, and you have a recipe for disaster.
            After the first act, our story shifts to Morocco, where 47 is attempting to track down a Moroccan pedophile in order to gleam some information on this mysterious competing agency. This segment features the most straightforward action sequences of the entire novel, including a shoot out at an abandoned military base, but is ultimately really drawn out, especially when one considers how much is revealed in the comparatively long time it takes for this segment to conclude. Here the plot begins to lose focus, and ultimately the overarching storyline of the traitor within the agency is lost in the shuffle. The third act, in which 47 attempts to arrange the "accidental" death of the traitor, is the most authentic to the Hitman series. Here we see the careful plotting, disguises, and reconnaissance that embody the best of the Hitman games. The ending is extremely abrupt, but not entirely unfitting, and the third act is easily the best.
            The writing absolutely ruined this book for me. There are some good insights into 47's nature here (like how he prepares for his missions by carefully scouting out the target) along with absolutely inane details (like what 47 ate for breakfast the morning before he killed his victim.) There are no real secondary characters to seek your teeth in to, and that is OK, but the character exploration of 47 is not exactly deep/profound, and the plot loses a ton of steam in the meandering second act. The third act picks up the pace a bit, but such a poorly written book can't quite earn my approval. It is relatively faithful to the game, so fans may want to check it out, but it is too weak all around for my tastes.
Final Score

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