The Bottom Line: A gloriously nasty revenge thriller that manages to shock and surprise until the final page.
The second installment in Lee Matthew Goldberg’s Desire Card trilogy, set decades after Immoral Origins, follows assassin J.D. Storm, who goes by the handle James Dean. We first find J.D. preparing for a mission that will take him to Morocco. In a business where any wish can be fulfilled for the right price, J.D. isn’t in a position to question his orders. But as we learn in a flashback, he recently did just that, creating an immediate and palpable erosion of trust with his employer.
When his mission to murder a man in Marrakesh goes unfulfilled because it would have involved killing a man in front of his son, J.D. wisely decides to flee. And as he’s checking out of the hotel, a package arrives – filled with the fingers of the man he was supposed to kill. He returns to Vermont, where he wants only to gather his life savings and disappear. While a stateside ambush is obviously expected, Goldberg’s spare, stripped-down, hard-hitting prose renders the action essential reading nevertheless.
Goldberg’s depiction of a killer on the run from persons who are somehow more evil is perhaps the definition of antihero fiction. While action-packed, the story could easily feel hollow in less capable hands. After all, we’ve seen stories about mass murderers who refuse to cross certain moral lines before. And yet Storm’s tale manages to feel new, in part because of the startling immediacy of his relationship with former girlfriend, Annie.
Look no further than a lovemaking scene in which Annie removes J.D. ‘s eyepatch – he lost the eye in the Iraq War – and licks it with her tongue, sparking feelings of intimacy within him that have clearly gone dormant. Without ever slowing the book’s pace, Goldberg manages to touch literal and emotional nerves again and again, transforming a detestable character into one who is actually sympathetic.
J.D. ‘s decision to go after his former employer, who goes by the moniker Clark Gable, is the book’s pivotal turning point – and a plight that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. One gets the feeling that J.D. isn’t merely acting in his own best interest, but is somehow exacting revenge for all who have perished at his behest. And yet Goldberg’s use of identity as a veritable hall of mirrors still delivers plenty of surprises and questions, including the chilling epilogue. Finally, fans of Immoral Origins will be amazed that Goldberg pulls off a rarity – a bonafide sequel that can also be enjoyed as a standalone.