A knock wakes me. It could be hours later. I arrived in the early afternoon and now there is no light edging the curtains as I switch on the bedside lamp and move to the door. I look through the spy hole. It is Randall, suitably distorted by the lens, unless some effect of altitude or cabin pressure during the flight has caused his face to bulge hideously. I contemplate with some pleasure the catastrophic effect this would have on this narcissist, with whom it is my misfortune to share responsibilities, for the immediate future.
This was such a weird book – let me explain:
Rina, our MC, is a hired assassin. The book starts with Rina on a mission in Acapulco in 1974. Things do not go as planned and escalate quickly. We learn that Rina is one kick-ass character.
In the next chapter we get travel back to a slum in London in 1954. The estate is run by gangs who extort rent money from the tenants. We again meet Rina as a teenager, living in squalor with an alcoholic mother and two younger siblings. Living conditions are dire. People are horrible. The scale of neglect and abuse is off the scale.
From there on we get alternating chapters about the main plot – Rina’s misadventure in Mexico – and the sub-plot – Rina’s background story.
Structurally, the book worked well for me. I liked the switching back and forth between locations and stories, I liked the fast pace, I even didn’t mind the constant first person present tense narration (I know that some people will hate this).
The book is gripping throughout and very, very graphic. This also worked for me as a reader.
What absolutely did not work for me was the amount of sexual violence in this book, mostly in repetitive descriptions, and the fact that rape was used as a plot device. That just never works for me.
What made the book really weird was the fact that this was not written by Octavia Butler or Margaret Atwood. I mean I had serious flashbacks to reading Parable of the Sower and literally all Atwood novels I have ever read bar two – but especially the MaddAdam books.
There was not a single decent male character in sight. None. At all. So weird.
Not that the female characters were all that great, but they were more fleshed out at least, but then there was a bit more focus on the female characters as the story also featured a couple of lesbian romance plots, .
Ok, with everything else going on this book, that actually made me laugh as I did not see that coming. Again, so weird.
Still, with its problems, I found it hard to put the book down. Partly because I was stumped by the book. I mean, it reminded me so much of Butler and Atwood but it obviously seemed to lack the feminist/political message. Or did I just miss it because I obviously could not see beyond who the author of the book was?
On the other hand, it reminded me of The Bourne Identity. It was fast-paced and action-packed and it worked as just that – a quick read that was kind of entertaining, really weird, and did not require me to engage critical thinking too much.
But at the end of it all, the overwhelming thought I am left with is: WTF did I just read??!!
Harm was Hugh Fraser’s first book. According to his bio, Fraser had the plot of the book mapped out before he embarked on a short creative writing course to finish the book. I think it shows somewhat as the choice of narration may not have been the most advantageous (first person present tense does not work all that well for most readers), but it did add to the immediacy of the narration. He’s written two sequels to Harm and I am still really curious about them. But I can’t tell whether I am curious about them because of the oddness of Harm or because I really dig Hugh Fraser as an actor (not just as Hastings, btw.).