I haven’t been this ambivalent about a book since, oh, last week. My reading buddies and I wanted to prolong our baddie streak after finishing Hench. It turned out that The Henchmen’s Book Club was what we thought we would get with Hench, only, you know, a little more regressive.
“But most of all, Bill just missed making a difference; even if that difference was invariably a terrifying plot that threatened to destabilise the entire free world. But like Bill said, it was just nice to be a part of something.”
Mark Jones is a henchman in the Agency, one of the big employment agencies for supervillains. But despite steady work, it doesn’t always pay well, and Mark’s in debt to his father-in-law. As much as Mark would like to get out of the business, it’s his only chance for a payday. The trouble is that the villains aren’t all that interested in looking after their contracted employees and Mark keeps finding himself in hot water.
“Because loyalty’s a one-way street in this game, with often nothing more than broken promises, trap doors and piranha tanks waiting when it came time to paying the men who’d done the actual grafting.”
So while Mark’s standing around, he decides to start a book club with his fellow henches. It becomes a connection between some of the henches, although it is not without controversy: “The only serious danger I’d experienced was when I’d come perilously close to losing my nominating rights following some scandalously low scores for The Kenneth Williams Diaries.’”
The story is rather episodic, and for awhile, it was hard to parse out an overarching plot. It veers from one disastrous job to another. The humorous descriptions and asides were non-stop, and at times, exhausting. It should be noted that they were occasionally excessively juvenile, particularly a number of mentions of something being very “gay.” An example: “Instead, I tried meditating my way to the surface. This sounds a bit gay, and I’ll be the first to admit it, but it can actually save your life.” Not only not really necessary, but I felt rather questionable coming from a guy who’s reading books like ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife,’ ‘The Client,’ ‘Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’ ‘Bodies,’ ‘The Book of Illusions,’ and ‘Beloved.’ Which–characters. I actually rather enjoyed how most of them were done, focusing on the henching, but adding a few details here and there to humanize them, especially Mr. Smith and Big Cat. The ‘heroes’ ended up being especially funny, with their imaginary takes on James Bond and an American Steven Segal-type action figure.
“‘You’re going to get us both killed, you great fuckwit!’ I cringed, hardly daring to look over at the speedometer.
“Danger’s my middle name,” Tempest breezed.
“I never said danger. I said killed,” I pointed out. “And fuckwit.”
Honestly, I felt like this was a book in need of a strong editor. Take out a good forty pages of filler in the beginning, use the hench book club even more to create empathy, remove the tasteless ‘gay’ language, re-work descriptions of women so they don’t automatically include the fuckability meter, and rework the problematic Africa section (or cut it), and it would be closer to a fun, four-star read. It would make a bankable difference between finishing this and wanting to try more of the author’s works, both written and in screen. For now, I’ll pass on further King.