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Tom Wood: How I Met My Assassin

The man known only as Victor stared at me from behind a curtain of shadows.

He didn’t look like much – certainly not a professional assassin with an unmatched capacity for violence and an unflinching willingness to use it. He looked like a businessman: smart and suited but forgettable. You’d walk past him on the street and think he was on his way to the office, not preparing to kill someone for a hefty fee. I didn’t know much about him back then, but I knew he would be ruthless and cold and immune to regret and remorse.

At first I didn’t want him to have a single redeeming feature and after three books I’m not really sure he has more than a handful.  I began writing about him a very long time ago, in my early twenties, and at the time I had an affinity with the bad guys of the screen and page (slightly unnerving when I think about it). I was gutted when De Niro had his comeuppance in Heat. Heroes were (are) boring. They just do the right thing, predictably and endlessly. Where’s the fun in that? Victor would be different. He wouldn’t be a killer with a code or one trying to escape the life by performing one last job or a man forced against his conscience into a dark world. He would be a willing participant in his profession, unburdened by morality but with some honour and maybe even a little chivalry. He would be my protagonist but he would be a villain.

Victor is ruthless and amoral and does some truly horrendous things, but he’s no Hannibal Lecter of assassins. He doesn’t enjoy what he does even if he has absolutely no qualms about doing it. He sees himself as the inevitable culmination of what humans have been doing to each other for millennia. He’s content to slaughter a police tactical unit assaulting his position as there is no alternative to ensure escape for him and his partner. Does he have limits? Yes. At one point he is prepared to release a captured enemy because they’re both just doing their jobs – there’s nothing personal between them. That is until Victor discovers his captive has killed children. Even for Victor, that’s going too far.

His background is deliberately vague for two reasons. Firstly, no other character in my books knows more than a handful of details about him so it wouldn’t feel right for the reader to either. Secondly, Victor is almost entirely forward thinking. He doesn’t dwell on the past. He must concentrate on the present so he can survive the future. So again, it wouldn’t be consistent to reveal lots of information about him. That said, it would be unfair to the reader if it were impossible to get to know Victor, but I prefer that this occurs through his words and actions instead of in expository back story.

In my first book, The Hunter, he’s betrayed and finds himself on the run as a target of powerful enemies. We’re introduced to him at the peak of his profession as a freelance killer and as a consummate loner who from necessity chooses to be without friends or any kind of personal relationships, but as the story progresses he starts to feel something for another person and in doing so acts on emotion for the very first time. Since then things have not gone smoothly for him. In my next book, The Enemy, Victor has three targets to kill to fulfil an obligation to his employer but finds himself a pawn in a wide-reaching conspiracy that adds even more enemies to the list of foes that want him dead. Now, in The Game, Victor undertakes a complex assignment that sees him undercover and forced to operate alongside people even more dangerous than him. Not only that, but his dubious sense of morality and honour is stretched to the limit.

A lot of authors seem to write about a protagonist they would wish to be, or wish to be with. I have no desire to live Victor’s solitary existence, constantly under threat, never able to relax, with no friendships or relationship, always sleeping fully dressed in case he has to make a hasty exit. It would be great to be fearless and capable of triumphing in almost all circumstances, but not at the price Victor pays for such traits. His life is one hellish situation after the next. That makes him fun to read about it, but you’d never want to meet him.


Tom Wood’s latest thriller to feature Victor is out now in paperback and ebook. Click here to find out more.