Review of “Hostile Takeover” by Shane Kuhn

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Synopsis, Taken from Simon Schuster Product Detail Page:

Professional assassin John Lago faces off against his deadliest adversary yet—his wife—in Hostile Takeover, the exciting sequel to Shane Kuhn’s bestselling debut The Intern’s Handbook, which the New York Post called “a sexy, darkly comic thriller.”

At the end of The Intern’s Handbook, John tracks down his nemesis Alice but instead of putting a bullet in her head, he puts a ring on her finger and marries her. Together, they execute a hostile takeover of Human Resources, Inc., the “placement agency” that trains young assassins to infiltrate corporations disguised as interns and knock off high profile targets. As HR’s former top operatives, they are successful until conflicting management styles cause an ugly breakup that locks John out of the bedroom and the boardroom.

But when Alice takes on a new HR target, John is forced to return to the office battlefield in a role he swore he would never play again: the intern. What starts out as a deadly showdown turns into the two of them fighting side by side to save HR, Inc.—and their marriage.

Review:

Fun, quick-witted, and exceedingly easy to get into- Shane Kuhn’s fast-paced, slightly farcical-toned thriller Hostile Takeover, reminiscent of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, is a sequel to last year’s The Intern’s Handbook, which was the first installment of this ongoing series. This sequel is mainly about the resourceful, smart, capricious  John, who finds himself entangled in a marriage with his former arch-nemesis Alice. From the beginning of the story, you are almost immediately aware that this story has a sly, elusive wit, which if you do not get immediately, you will feel completely lost, when in the midst of reading this book. Having never read the first novel myself, it took me a fair bit longer to adapt to the tone of Shane Kuhn’s prose, which has devilishly clever pop-cultural references scattered throughout the beginning of the story, intermingled with the captivating, electrifying action sequences, along with a developing plot about the latest far-flung, slightly preposterous criminal plans, hatched by both Alice and John.

The first hundred or so pages involves their murderous post-nuptials, and honeymoon, where the pace of the action is incessant, and the humor remains impressively front-stage and center, throughout this part of the novel. We get a glimpse into just how the main character of John works, his machinations, and how he deals with the ensuing tension of being wedded to someone, who has entirely different motives for different plans than him. The ongoing strain in their relationship is cleverly developed through how they respond to missions together, and the clashes of their overweening egos, along with their latent feelings of rivalry that they are working out together, provide the beginning of the story with a mostly necessary, somewhat effective introduction to this dynamic of the novel.

Yet while I most definitely enjoyed the razor-sharp wit, the rich dynamics between these two leads, something about the text eluded me somewhat. There wasn’t much depth, or substantial plot threads to really keep me riveted throughout the novel. I was expecting a bit more political intrigue, but these elements were a bit underdeveloped, and even felt secondary to the wit, and nonsensical nature of the novel’s various scenes that detail their various missions. Early on, we mostly get these scenes of their different escapades, which are deceptively stylized, yet somewhat lacking in much more deeper meaning or significance, something with a bit more depth that would really deepen the whole experience of what is otherwise a fairly well-written, intelligently told tale. Something about it never really quite resonated with me, but perhaps this is my own preconceived notions getting in the way.

To be fair, things do get much better, as you get further in the novel. Some of the above elements that could have quickly became formulaic and stale real fast are quickly remedied by a renewed sense of purpose and energy midway through the novel. In some ways, the later part of the novel gets far more interesting, as unexpected things happen, and there is a little more intrigue, in terms of politics and the somewhat enigmatic motives of the different capering criminals that are featured throughout this rapidly-moving thriller, filled with many sequences with excitement,style, and most of all, fun.

I did love the interrogation scenes that occur during intervals between the recounted action of the story. The novel has a media res. structure to it, which provides readers a nice glimpse of where the main character John happens to be somewhat after the retold events of the novel. These retold events are what chronicles what happens to John, and lands him where he is early on in these chapters. I don’t want to divulge just where he happens to be because that might ruin the surprising element of the very beginning of the novel, and how the whole novel swaps between this future interrogation scene, and the earlier events leading up to it (that make up a bulk of the novel). In many ways, this structure does provide the needed sense of diversion from the earlier parts that again I feared may have become too hackney too quickly.  And it is the story that grow out of this beginning interrogation scene that did improve the novel as a whole for me, enriching the main plot with a bit more intrigue, though I still felt a little detached from the novel. I guess, it’s best to see this novel as almost like a campy comic book thriller type of story, versus something more somber and serious in tone like an episode of True Detectives.

For the most part, if you don’t have high expectations for a deeper, more serious thriller plot, and you really want something fun and quick-witted, then you’ll absolutely love Hostile Takeover. For myself, I cannot help, but feel slightly disappointed, but the novel does succeed, for the most part, with the tone it was trying to capture with this story. Whether or not I loved it ultimately, that’s something that may continuing feeling quite impossible to articulate, but I cannot deny that this novel was great fun, and had moments of devastatingly funny scenes. There’s no doubt that you’ll glean much amusement and humor from this novel because Hostile Takeover is a thriller that is more in the “derisive/nonsensical” zone, more-so than the prosaic/serious zone.  If you crave a book that is blunt and stars two egocentric, conniving, deplorably mad characters, you’ll again find a lot to love here!

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