Return of the Assassin is the shocking continuation of the saga of El Rey, the notorious Mexican cartel super-assassin whose legacy of impossible kills has earned him the reputation as the most lethally effective hit man in the world. Faced with impossible choices as he races against time, El Rey must return to a cartel underworld where the smallest slip means instant death, on a suicide mission to save the life of a young woman whose escape and survival is inexorably linked to his own.
Q&A with Russell Blake
Q: Return of the Assassin is the third installment in the “assassin series.” Why the fascination with this story?
RB: El Rey is such a powerful character – at once reprehensible and without any redeeming qualities, and yet intensely interesting. He’s despicable, a sociopath, a killer forged in a world of ugly brutality, and yet there’s a sort of tranquility to him, a Zen that’s wholly incongruent. Perhaps it’s because he has no fear of death, or because he’s judge and executioner and thus is his own ultimate authority, or maybe it’s just the way he’s wired. For whatever reason, I keep going back to him, imagining further adventures and scenarios. Can’t help it. But I think it’s safe neither Tom Hanks nor Tom Cruz will ever play him in a movie…
Q: It would seem that Captain Cruz takes a back seat in this novel. By design?
RB: Not really. I just write the story, and in this one Cruz wasn’t central. The next one, he will be integral, but here he’s more peripheral. Each book in the series has its own vibe and pace – Night is the making of a monster, King is the ultimate assassination story, Revenge is a mad adrenaline rush, and Return is a quest. They’re all paced slightly differently with a focus on divergent aspects of the central characters. Not intentionally – that’s just how they wound up.
Q: Why don’t you end your books in a usual manner? Bad guy gets it, good guy triumphs, love fills the air, closure is found by the final pages?
RB: I read a lot and bore easily. When I read a book and the final scenes involve the protagonist duking it out with the villain, who almost wins save for a nearly miraculous twist, and in the last 25 pages everything falls into tidy place, I feel a cheated and taken for a fool. I know some readers want a reassuring, familiar read where their beliefs are uncritically validated and everything is neat, but that’s not how the world works, and there’s a part of me that despises that sort of denouement. I feel like I’m cheating the reader if I let them off light and deliver the predicable. I don’t write to churn out familiar universal stories of hope and redemption. I write thrillers that surprise and shock. They can’t be very thrilling if you know how it’s going to end a third of the way through the book. That’s not my deal.
Q: You’ve been cited as one of the top 50 indie authors this year. To what do you attribute that flicker of notoriety?
RB: I think there’s an audience out there that shares my sensibility. Thanks to those readers, my books have enjoyed some small popularity. I can only hope to continue to contrive interesting stories that folks like, and that I’d read if they were written by someone else. It’s impossible to second guess what readers will enjoy, so in the end, I write what I’d read. But at the end of the day, whether the top 50, 1000, or 10, readers get to vote with their wallets every day. For me, ranking isn’t nearly as important as customer feedback and hearing from my readers that they like what I’m writing. As long as they keep enjoying them and buying them, I’ll keep writing them.