The Killer in the Woods (Robert Vance, #1) by Rick Van Etten
ABOUT THE BOOK
ROBERT VANCE IS A MAN WITH A SECRET…
Robert Vance is a magazine editor who works from home and lives in a house full of books. His neighbors think of him as a quiet, unassuming man. His passion for pheasant hunting with Preacher, his German wirehaired pointer, is typical of sportsmen living in the Midwest. But what isn’t so typical—and what his neighbors don’t know—is that occasionally Robert hunts something besides pheasants.
Robert hates bullies and injustice. When someone has a problem with either, he or she can hire Robert to make the situation right.
But Robert isn’t—in his own mind—just a contract killer. He lives by a set of rules that dictate who, where, and why he can kill. So when a well-meaning citizen discovers Robert’s latest target and winds up being charged with the killing, Robert must take steps to ensure the man’s freedom.
STEPS THAT WILL MOST LIKELY INVOLVE KILLING AGAIN…
As a native Iowa farm girl, dog lover, and former pheasant hunter, I couldn’t wait to read this book. Mr. Van Etten has captured the essence of living in the Midwest while adding a bit of mystery and killing to the mix.
Robert Vance is an editor, writer, dog lover, and hunter who happens to be a “hitman with a code of honor”. He abhors bullies and injustice and when he’s given a contract to eliminate a pompous Chicago lawyer who gets away with murder, the normally clean kill turns to shit. Unfortunately, an innocent man was falsely accused of the lawyer’s murder, and now Robert’s rule #2 of no collateral damage has to be rectified. Therefore, the story gets more interesting when the hitman becomes the investigator to free an innocent man by any means possible.
I enjoy the author’s journalistic writing style which includes Midwestern places I’ve visited as well as the joy of pheasant hunting which brings back fond memories for me with my ex and our black lab Bonnie. The reader is cleverly immersed in Robert’s outwardly normal life of a man in his early 60’s writing, spending time with his dog, and dating. And then there is the alter ego…the hitman… the man who believes in deadly justice. It’s a fascinating dynamic considering his age, location, and his lifestyle.
Overall, this is an enthralling and finely detailed crime-turned-investigative-story by a hitman determined to right a wrong that he had created. And did I mention there is a doozy of a twist at the end? Recommend highly!
Thank you to Mr. Van Etten for giving me the opportunity to read this book with no expectation of a positive review.
The money is good, but that’s not why I do it.
Kill people, I mean. That’s what I do, and I’m very good at it. And yes, the compensation is usually more than adequate.
But don’t start jumping to conclusions. I’m not a spook. I’m not some ex-Agency, ultra-ultra-deep-cover, government-trained assassin who got my start in the military and, having discovered a unique talent, couldn’t let it go. Nor was I ever encouraged by my “Uncle” to put my special skills to use for the common good, in which capacity I might still have the occasional brush-up with colleagues who might or might not be among the so-called good guys and might or might not be people I should trust.
No. I don’t play at espionage. I don’t call secret phone numbers and get my orders from people who use lots of acronyms and won’t allow their names to be spoken aloud on an open line, and I don’t have hidden files tucked away somewhere that I can use as leverage if I find myself running afoul of a power player. I never served in the military, and the extent of my contact with the government consists of filing my income taxes every year, renewing the registration on my SUV and voting in the occasional election. The few times I’ve been called for jury duty I’ve managed to get myself excused.
Sounds pretty dull, doesn’t it? You’re right; it is. And that’s by design.
If you saw me on the street or in a restaurant or a shopping mall or an airport—and there’s a reasonable chance you have seen me in some of those places—you’d most likely give me no more than a passing glance. There’s quite a bit about me that’s just plain average—size, looks, clothing. I wear glasses, and my hair is getting thin on top.
I dress comfortably and rather conservatively. I recently became eligible for Social Security—I’m old enough to have served in Vietnam, but I was in college at the time and my number in the draft lottery was high enough to keep me there.
I don’t go out of my way to attract attention, but neither do I live an introverted, reclusive life. I’m not married, but I date casually, and I occasionally get invited to parties and cookouts and can hold my own in a conversation on a variety of subjects. People usually laugh at my jokes, and I keep myself reasonably well informed about most current events. I read extensively, and my house is full of books.
I also have a Browning gun vault full of shotguns, but those are primarily related to my regular job—I’m the editor of an outdoor sporting magazine, a “hook and bullet rag,” as such publications are irreverently referred to within the publishing industry. I’m a bird hunter by avocation, and a six-year-old German wirehaired pointer named Preacher—for Clint Eastwood’s grizzled character in the movie Pale Rider—shares my home.
Sometimes I use one of my shotguns for something besides upland game or waterfowl. That’s a safe enough practice, as I’ll explain later. When a shotgun is too large for the job at hand—when it’s necessary to get up close and personal to the target, in other words—I’ll occasionally use a handgun. But I never keep these after the job is finished. That’s Rule Number 3.
I travel a good bit for my job—I get quite a few invitations from advertisers throughout the hunting season, and by taking advantage of these invitations I’ve hunted in many locations and at many top-drawer facilities around the world. Sometimes—not frequently, but once in a while—my two jobs overlap. The advertiser picks up the tab for my hunt (in exchange for some editorial ink), and by staying an extra day or two—usually on the pretext of visiting an old childhood friend or a seldom-seen relative and always at my own expense—I manage to take care of the other assignment while I’m at it. It doesn’t happen that way very often, but it’s convenient when it does.
OK, so if I really don’t do it for the money, why do I do it?
There are two things I can’t abide in this world—a bully, and injustice.
The two often go hand in hand, and when I encounter either, I bristle. When someone else has a problem with either, he or she will sometimes seek me out to make the situation right.
Over the years, I’ve become very good at this. And that’s my real motivation—the feeling of satisfaction that comes from having done a job well, righted a wrong, balanced the scales or eliminated an oppressive threat.
It’s my way of leaving the world a little better place than I found it.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rick Van Etten is a former college English instructor, corporate communications professional and retired magazine editor whose numerous articles and features have appeared in Gun Dog, Wing and Shot, Sports Afield, Ducks Unlimited, Game and Fish, Petersen’s Hunting, Farm and Ranch Living and Reader’s Digest. An Illinois native and lifelong upland bird hunter, Rick now lives in Iowa with a middle-aged Irish setter and an elderly tortoiseshell cat. The Killer in the Woods is his first novel.