New Releases: The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins

Underground Reading: Contract by Simon Spurrier

ContractContract (2007) is the story of Michael Point, who, by his own admission isn't particularly smart, funny or wise. However, Michael does have an impressively absent set of moral values - he's in it for the money. A talented social predator, he also understands how to make himself noticed or unnoticed, to get laid or to be ignored. 

His predatory cunning and mercenary ethics all add up to one profession: a hitman.

And he's very good at it.

In fact, Michael is so good at killing that he's been recruited by a mysterious group called "The Choir" to do a series of hits. The prize is immense, but they're high-profile and, more importantly, messy. The dead? They keep coming back. 

Spurrier's style - something akin to Bret Easton Ellis' - is incredibly disconcerting. The reader is bombarded with paragraphs delineating Aztec gods, shopping lists, Internet trivia and detailed instructions for building a silencer. Most of Contract is from Michael's point of view, but the occasional snippet of diary entry from his confidante Sally is enough to show us that he's a) unreliable and b) not nearly as cool as he thinks he is. The purpose of the book seems to be to pose as many questions as possible about the narrator's perceptions.

Contract isn't an easy read. Michael is a collapsing, predatory, macho narrator who generates little sympathy - and, aside from a few clever witticisms, Contract lacks the goofy, self-awareness of The Culled. Contract is deliberately not over the top - which makes it all the more disturbing.

The read is worth the struggle, as Contract is redeemed at the end. The sense of an Epic Supernatural Plot is largely (and wisely) ignored for the more human drama of Michael's quest for purpose. Underneath all the layers of hallucination and distorted perception, Mr. Spurrier cleverly weaves everything together, culminating in an excellent final "reveal" and brilliantly-executed ending. Contract is a book about a side character, a "disposable" (as Michael would say) in the great scheme. 

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