Story Rating: 3.5 stars
Audio Rating: 3.75 stars
Narrator: Gomez Pugh
Length: 5 hours, 31 minutes
This is audiobook is told in two parts, the first from the POV of an assassin stalking his target, and the second half from the target.
Yoshi is a 22-year-old virgin and an assassin with 100 confirmed kills. He was taken from his home by the assassin who killed his own parents when he was a small boy. This man, Mr. H, raised Yoshi from his youth in a caring manner. Of course, he was raised in the “shelter” of The Assassin’s Guild (TAG) Headquarters, so Yoshi learned languages, close-combat weapons use, martial arts, and marksmanship instead of penmanship and times tables. He’s stalking a new target, an English professor at a community college in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and wondering why he’s even there. TAG assassins (like himself) take out heads of state and presidents of third-world nations. Not dumpy college professors.
Instead of making the professor “accidentally” disappear, Yoshi smells how hinky the situation is and decides to do extra surveillance. His cameras pick up a disturbing scene of his target masturbating—crying out his extasy in Russian. This triggers memories that Yoshi has buried of his first and only love—his father’s best friend and partner at TAG, Dmitry. The man had been all hard and sadistic, and he’d turned Yoshi’s crank hard from a very young age—like 12—the same age as when Yoshi got his first cock cage. Dmitry died when Yoshi turned 16 and Yoshi has been celibate since. Yet, this professor is waking up his libido big time.
Yoshi’s reluctance to kill the professor is fueled by his foster brother, Connor’s, insistence that he finish his case. Yoshi’s confidence was rattled by his last job, so he’s planning to capture and torture his target to learn why he’s a target in the first place. Once Yoshi learns what’s really going on, he’ll happily dispatch the target. Except, getting his target into the torture room he’s constructing reveals bigger secrets than Yoshi could have anticipated.
Okay, well, the story was a little confusing with all the covert ops happening. Yoshi seems to be a reliable narrator, and his confusion regarding the mystery of his target’s history is genuine. Both Yoshi and the target have odd lives due to their backgrounds. Yoshi’s a mix of innocence and arrogance, but his need for connection was a constant theme. It’s what compels Yoshi to stalk the target, and make contact when he shouldn’t. His desire for a Dom is palpable, and the target is an unexpected surrogate for the man he grew up missing: Dmitry.
There is some humor and some chemistry. I think I liked the story a lot more once I got to the second part. By then, it was clear that Yoshi and his target are an unlikely pair. That his mission is another bust is only mildly disappointing. Unraveling the mystery of the target’s history brings Yoshi back to his own home, with hard questions for the only two people he’d grown up trusting: Mr. H and Connor. As a spy/thriller, this one didn’t really hit the mark for me, with Yoshi being inexplicably cautious without ever explaining to the reader why, which was about the ONLY thing Yoshi didn’t explain to us. There were issues with pacing, for me. Just as soon as any action began to build, we cut away to a flashback or cut off to another day. That continually destroyed the tension. Also, as a listener, all the many names and aliases for the characters got hard to keep track of.
The narrator, Gomez Pugh, did a great job of acting out the characters, with clear differentiation between Yoshi’s more youthful voice, Connor’s higher-pitch, and the target’s gravelly commands. The accents of different languages and inflections sounded on point. The pace of narration was good, giving rise to more tension than the script could have elicited. I will be honest and say I didn’t like the story much at the beginning—but I got drawn in by the narration and was far more interested by TAG and its quirky assassins, many of whom are gay, by the time I was halfway through.
The spy parts seemed a little too technical and silly at times. The pseudonym’s were all a bit ridiculous to me, especially as they were so confusing in the audiobook. Yoshi’s story eventually becomes a love story. His connection to the target is kismet, orchestrated by his biggest supporter in the Guild. Reconciliations are necessary, and are made. Yoshi’s finally going to find happiness with a partner he can trust to dominate him. There are hints for the next story in the series—and I might be interested in that, now that I’ve gotten to know all the characters and still somewhat like them.
The story contains scenes of murder, kidnapping, torture, rough sex, domination, kink, bondage, starvation, orgasm denial, watersports, and—almost inexplicably—true love. I’m still not sure if it’s meant to be serious or a farce, but in the end, it leaned more in the farce direction than thriller, for me, and that’s why I started liking it.