I am not an elitist, but I must own up to the fact that, notwithstanding the thousands of suspense/thriller and detective novels I’ve read in my lifetime, I never gave a thought to the folks who come in and surreptitiously clean up and make everything all right. That is, until I read THE CLEANER by debut novelist Brett Battles.
Jonathan Quinn is the cleaner, the person who comes in and supervises the restoration of the site of an “operation,” if you will. He picks up the casings, cleans up the blood, disposes of the bodies and puts the scene back together --- or at least muddies it up enough so that not much can be discovered from it. Quinn is not a violent guy by nature and tries to avoid the use of source situations if possible, though, as is demonstrated fairly soon in THE CLEANER, he is capable of taking care of himself. Quinn’s biggest problem is his curiosity, and when he receives an assignment to look over the scene of an arson-related death that just doesn’t look right, his internal alarm bells start going off.
The Office, the shadowy entity that hires Quinn to do things like this, starts getting hinky when Quinn asks too many questions. When he himself becomes the target of an assassination attempt and learns that other agents from The Office have been targeted as well, Quinn begins a covert investigation of his own --- sometimes helped and occasionally hindered by Nate, his too-eager but charming assistant.
Quinn travels to Saigon and to Berlin, where a deadly foe who he has encountered in the past appears to be on the verge of carrying out a nefarious scheme. Another element of Quinn’s past --- the beautiful and enigmatic Orlando --- is also there to help, but it may not be enough to stop a deadly, ingenious plot motivated by an unquenched revenge.
Battles debuts with a promising, unique style, drawing the reader in slowly but surely and providing just enough information at intervals to keep the guessing and wondering percolating along. By no means has he revealed everything there is to know about Quinn --- or, for that matter, Nate and The Office --- by the satisfying conclusion, which ends with a neat and subtle bit of symmetry. Hopefully we can look forward to more, which, I understand, is on the way.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 7, 2011