Frank Westworth’s The Redemption of Charm is the third in
the Killing Sisters trilogy, following on from A Last Act of Charity and The
Corruption of Chastity, all featuring hard-man John-Jacques Stoner, known by most as JJ. The
three killing sisters are Charity, Chastity and Charm.
You don’t need to have read
the first two books, though there are inevitably back-references to incidents
and characters. At the beginning of this book, JJ is in the United States,
possibly in hiding, slowly recovering both mentally and physically from the
trauma of betrayal, corruption and extreme violence in the previous book.
‘… his mind was healing as
his body hardened. That as the fracturing inside his head knitted itself, so
the flab of a civilised lifestyle was leaving his muscles, which were
tightening and lightening, becoming tougher and stronger. Both his body and his
brain were preparing for a fight. Flight was over; the time to fight was still
over the horizon, but its presence was inescapable, looming insistent, and
oddly welcome.’ (p42)
JJ does violence very well,
too, as a few stroppy mugging bikers discover in a neatly choreographed example
of aggression (pp33-36).
Chastity is an interesting
character, who hungered for bookstores and cities rather than the big open air
spaces. She hated driving in the city: ‘She could have been the original
sufferer from road rage, and found intolerable the stupid behaviour of fools
who should in her view never have been granted a birth certificate, never mind
a driver’s licence. City streets were filled with potential accidental
murderers at the wheels of heavy weapons.’ (p125)
The novel is peppered with
similar philosophical asides, which reminded me slightly of the late great John
D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. One of JJ’s Stateside pals is an FBI agent,
Travis, though of a different complexion!
Another enjoyable aspect is
the wit and word-play: ‘(JJ) simply appeared to lack both curiosity – which was famously fatal to felines – and
appeared also to be wondrously capable of detaching himself from everything
unimportant to him.’ (p127) When another
of JJ’s pals remarks, ‘I am a believer’ JJ responds, ‘Great song, wasted on
monkeys.’ Yes, he is corrected: ‘Monkees, like trainee monks…’ (p221) And the word-play seems inexhaustible;
indeed, as Stoner is an ex-soldier, an assassin, which is also referred to as a
stone killer. (p268) There are plenty
more instances, but I’ll confine myself to only one more. JJ is wearing a pair
of camo-pattern biker pants with reinforced knees. Chastity suggests, ‘Useful
for aggressive praying.’ (p362)
And we know where sympathies
lie. ‘… politics is a much dirtier game than contract killing.’ (p203)
Ultimately, JJ is on a quest
to silence whoever has most recently wrecked his life, or die in the attempt.
He now trusts very few people, understandably. Can he trust Chastity and Charm?
And what about the murderous Irish femme fatale Blesses?
Gritty, often raw in
language, and brutal at times, with graphic sex, this convoluted plot is not
for the easily offended. It is however a fascinating excursion into the psyche
of JJ himself, a character who leaps off the page, whether he’s riding his
Harley or playing his guitar or chilling out with cool torch singers, or
delivering his own form of justice. Just don’t let grandmother read it – unless
she was a gangster’s moll in a former life…