Assassins of a certain era, the lost kings

“Killers of a Certain Age” by Diana Rayburn. Berkeley, 368 pages, $27

When it comes to retirement, not everyone is willing to go kindly on that good night, to dedicate decades of skill, knowledge, and camaraderie when one still feels vital and useful. This is the topic that Deanna Raybourn deftly explores in her thriller Killers of a Certain Age, and the dilemma faced by Billie, Mary Alice, Natalie, Helen, co-workers and friends of more than 40 years who were unprepared for this looming retirement.

But Billy, Mary Alice, Natalie and Helen don’t have regular jobs. They are assassins, members of the first elite female assassin squad. All of them were recruited in 1978 by an “extra government” organization called the Museum that was originally formed just after World War II to hunt down the Nazis.

By the time Billy, Mary Alice, Natalie, and Helen came along, the targets had turned to arms dealers, sex dealers, the occasional dictator, cult leaders, and corrupt judges. “Basically, they’re not very nice people,” Mary Alice says, although we’re not even sure these are the women’s real names.

But they realize that their pension—yes, they have good health benefits, too—may not last when they go on an all-expenses-paid retirement trip in the Caribbean, only to know they’re the museum’s new goals. The women use their expert training and subtle instincts to save themselves and find out who wants to eliminate them. Woe to anyone who thinks he’d be easy targets just because his knees aren’t that graceful and his hair is gray.

In “Killers of a Certain Age,” Raybourn shows how older people, especially women, are ignored and belittled, adds a stew of sophisticated humor and explores the power of female friendship. And Billie, Mary Alice, Natalie, and Helen are very charismatic characters, each of whom over the years has established homes, hobbies, spouses and even legitimate jobs – after all, these assassination jobs aren’t daily tasks but spread out over months, even years.

Raybourn is best known for her two Edgar-nominated series set during the Victorian era and the third series set during the 1920s. With a contemporary and action-packed “Killers of a certain era,” Raybourn is setting up a new career path.

“The Lost Kings” by Terrell Johnson. Anchor, 368 pages, $27

The intense psychological thriller The Kings of Tyrell Johnson “The Lost Kings” has nothing to do with royalty, but they are a torn family who have lost their way together and as individuals. Johnson directs little Tana French for a decidedly American story that begins on a high note and never falters as it reaches an interesting ending.

The Lost Kings works well as a story about coming of age, a story of reconciliation with the past and the wasting of potential.

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Jenny King was 13 years old when she saw her father coming home covered in blood. Later that night, he leaves again, taking her twin brother, Jamie, with him. You didn’t see either of them again. This was the last cover of the twins’ broken childhood. They were mainly raised by an uncle and an uncle because their mother died in a car accident while they were unharmed in the back seat. The twins had only been living with their father for two years after he got them back when his second military tour concluded.

Since then I have lost Jenny. After her father and Jamie disappeared, she returned to live with her aunt and uncle. Her teenage years were filled with drugs, alcohol, anger and rebellion. She finally collected herself to move to England, attend Oxford University and graduate with honors in Psychology.

Now, she’s working a dead end job, going on with a married man and having complicated sessions with a therapist whom she doesn’t respect much. But her concerns about Jamie and the place may always be central to her.

Then Maddox, her childhood friend and first love, showed up at her job. Investigative journalist Maddox says he has found her father, who is still a fugitive who is wanted for murder, but no one knows where Jimmy is.

Johnson keeps the reader out of sight as “The Lost Kings” transitions from the childhood of twins to Jenny’s life in Oxford. Her decision to follow Maddox’s instructions about finding her father in upstate New York is pivotal to her development.

The Lost Kings is a real find.

Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at

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