Review: Work Done for Hire

Posted: March 4, 2014 in Book Reviews, Science Fiction
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Work Done

(Work Done for Hire, by Joe Haldeman. Ace, 2014, 278 pp., $25.95)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

Joe Haldeman’s most recent novel, Work Done for Hire, is a mixed bag.While it’s set in the near future, it’s few sci-fi elements are entirely incidental to the story, which is a straight-up thriller that could just as well have been set in the present.

The phrase “work done for hire” is taken directly from the U.S. government’s copyright form, and refers to writing done on a contract basis for money. In this case, the writer is the protagonist, Jack Daley, a struggling novelist and PTSD-plagued combat-vet sniper who at the beginning of Work Done for Hire takes on a novelization project, fleshing out the story for a horror movie.

This leads the reader to suspect a story-within-a-story novel, and indeed the first several chapters strictly alternate between Daley’s story and the horror tale. Then, strange and frightening things begin happening to Daley and his girlfriend, Kit, causing them to go on the run, and Haldeman almost entirely drops the horror tale; it makes up perhaps 10% of the remaining three-quarters of the book, and focuses entirely on the brutal actions of the story’s monster. This is unfortunate, because the protagonist in the horror tale is interesting, the monster isn’t, and Haldeman simply drops the protagonist and his story, stunting the horror tale. It’s disappointing.

The remainder of the book consists almost entirely (but for a few short, brutal horror-tale chapters) of Daley and Kit’s adventures while on the run, and while having no clue as to who’s tormenting them or why. Unfortunately, the reader doesn’t, either, because Haldeman provides no clues. Five pages from the end of the book, I still had no idea how Haldeman was going to wrap it up. No idea who was tormenting Daley and Kit, or why. Ultimately, Haldeman explains the plot in the book’s epilogue, and that’s not a good thing. Half the fun in reading mysteries and thrillers is trying to figure out what’s going on, and that requires clues, of which there are virtually none in this book.

There are  redeeming features, though, in Work Done for Hire. The protagonist, Jack Daley, is a strong, complex character. The writing is as tight as you’d expect in a Haldeman novel. There’s some humor, all provided by Daley’s mordant comments about life and, especially, himself. The book is a page-turner. And Haldeman once again displays his masterful knowledge of firearms and the military.

Recommended only for Haldeman fans.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on the sequel.

Free Radicals front cover

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