Clark Howard (1932-2016) was a longtime favorite for readers of 'Ellery Queen' and 'Alfred Hitchcock' mystery magazines. Writing for over 40 years, his literary output comprised of 16 novels and two published collections of short stories. He was no stranger to film as his work “The Arm” and “Six Against the Rock” were both adapted to film. My first undertaking of Clark Howard is his fifth published novel, “Last Contract” released in 1973 by the iconic staple for 1970s men's action adventure paperbacks, Pinnacle Books.
Howard provides a gripping, introspective look at a professional assassin named George Trevor. A former Korean War vet, Trevor has garnered a lucrative payroll by providing his services for a shadowy agency called The System. After 17-years and 27 kills, Trevor begins experiencing self-reflection on his career. The catalyst? Welcoming a starving alley cat into his home as a companion.
As though it was predestined, Trevor experiences a bursting ulcer while on an assignment to kill a Greek shipping magnate. His inability to complete the assignment, coupled with a lengthy hospital stay, adds greater perspective to his life. The pampering bedside manor of a nurse named Claire expands into a fruitful relationship that leaves Trevor in love and longing for a retirement in Florida. The only obstacle is his resignation from a killer-for-hire agency that doesn't typically accept retirement requests.
The author's own experiences shooting rocket launchers in the Korean War adds a sense of authenticity to Trevor's fictional past. In alternating chapters, the reader learns about Trevor's harrowing experiences as a soldier fighting in the infamous “Punchbowl,” one of the last major battles between American and Korean/Chinese forces. Trevor’s subsequent capture and torture in a Chinese prison camp isn't for squeamish readers. However, this gritty realism adds greater validity to Trevor's character.
“Last Contract” is a poignant look at a man who questions himself while navigating the bumpy downward slope from a career pinnacle. Action fans may find themselves skeptical of a domesticated hero, but don't let the paperback’s first half fool you. Trevor's attempts to escape The System are riveting, action-packed and encompass a majority of the book's closing act. It's an altogether different offering from the Pinnacle brand but propels itself forward with many of the genre's more familiar tropes. I absolutely loved this book and already have a wish list of pricey Clark Howard paperbacks waiting to devour my extra funds.
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