The Intern’s Handbook: A Thriller by Shane Kuhn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is a meta-fiction work of art. It is told from two perspectives – that of an assassin writing a guide book to future assassins at his firm, HR, Inc and that of an FBI investigation into our main character. The premise is that the firm takes advantage of interns being unnoticed, but key to any business to allow them to assassinate some very powerful people. Our main character, John Lago is on his final mission because he’s 25 and, in his words, “that’s the oldest someone will accept that you would work for free.”
Without giving too much away, I’ll say that Mr Kuhn does an incredible job of setting up John’s credentials and then pitting him against the FBI AND the person he’s trying to assassinate. So, like Vizzini in The Princess Bride, the deception layers keep mounting until you don’t know what to believe anymore. This allows Kuhn to keep someone like me, who’s quite good at predicting story beats/endings (I’ve read somewhere close to 500 or so books in my lifetime in addition to being a fan of Tvtropes.org and media criticism)
I really enjoyed that Kuhn has his character make fun of some spy/assassin tropes while embodying other spy/assassin tropes. He does a great job balancing deconstruction, reconstruction, and lampshade hanging. He also keeps up a great pace. The thing that loses it one star is the ending – which I’ll get to in the spoilers section.
Ok, spoiler time. I usually argue that a book should stand up even if you know the spoilers, but in a thriller (especially one in the assassin genre), I think you’re way better off not knowing. So you’ve been warned.
Kuhn did a good job of making me constantly second-guess myself. I thought Alice was going to sell him out. And she did, but not in the way I guessed. I also thought Bob was going to kill him rather than let him retire. I was right that Bob was deceiving him (a lot was weird or off about this hit compared to previous hits) but never could have guessed in a million years why. I knew that Alice wasn’t really dead. I knew there was something fishy about Alice helping him find his dad – but I thought it was because he was going to end up turning himself into the FBI. But, while Alice was doing it for a shady reason, it wasn’t the reason we thought.
This gets me to the ending that somewhat killed it for me. I feel like Bob is playing the WAAAAAY too long game here. Basically he’s trying to get to John’s dad so he guides who John ends up in foster homes with and who he kills for his first murder and EVERYTHING from his time as an infant in the NICU until he’s 25 just to get his dad! Including sending him on multiple missions where he might have died. It was just stretching credibility a LITTLE too much. But only lost it one star because I enjoyed the rest of the book so much.
I’ve enjoyed a lot a books this year, but this is the first one I’ve enjoyed starting at the first page and that I ALWAYS looked forward to reading.