3 out of 5
A slick, somewhat ridiculous spy thriller indirectly makes an impact: Remo Williams, ex-cop turned government assassin, is trained in the secret art of assassinery by the wizened Chiun. Soon, Williams – who has had his past essentially wiped in favor of being adopted by this program, dubbed CURE – is breakin’ bones and taking names, or maybe more accurately drinking and spending company funds while he decides on his feelings toward his new job. There’s also the matter of the mysterious Maxwell, tied to a local shady business mogul and who may be responsible for the deaths of several previous CURE agents.
Enough fodder for some quick paperback action, and yet Murphy and Sapir construct and tell their tale in this incredibly laissez-faire action in which things just sort of seem to happen to Remo, and he cracks wise and brute forces his way to the next clue. This is inaccurate, as Williams proves to be a damned good CURE agent, but it’s all in the attitude and the telling; the former is concise and without clutter, rendering what most airport authors would turn into a 300+ page book into a 180 page one, and the latter is surprisingly – given the cheeky premise – very intelligent, and very funny. I was constantly amazed at how well written The Destroyer was, with Murphy and Sapir avoiding many of the narrational hiccups that plague even some of my most beloved authors, and Williams’ snarky insights or the way he bumbles into (and out of) trouble easily earning chuckles or laughs. (Intended ones, I swear.)
The flip side of this is that the book never really seems to get going, exactly: this being Remo’s first CURE mission, the story is partly about his coming to terms with working for the agency, and so the “mystery” of Maxwell is very, very much on the backburner, though when our lead comes ’round to things and plot points finally culminate for a conclusion, it’s danged exciting.
Not especially deep, not especially original, The Destroyer, book one, has the timeless mark of quality writing going for it, and a self-awareness of the cheekiness of its slightly super-hero-y super-spy setup, which allows authors Murphy and Sapir to have fun with things while they’re also sneaking in some here-and-there comments on the state of the world, which turn out to be just as prescient now as they would’ve been back when the thing was published in 1971.