Title: Death Before Dishonor
Author: Kenny Hyman
Genre: Espionage Action / Suspense
This novel tells the story of Terry and Yuri Ciccone—brothers and partners in their craft of killing silently, without presence and without trace—as they go from youth to manhood and discover the costs of learning to fight.
Yuri is white while Terry is black, adopted by Italian-American parents who later become pregnant and have Yuri. They love both their children deeply, but when Terry starts getting bullied at his Japanese school, they decide he needs to learn to defend himself.
His adoptive father is against it, as he was trained to be a boxer and has seen, firsthand, the bloodlust that can come with such training, but they look into some of the Japanese martial arts options anyways and decide to give one teacher, Omiyoshu Kintake, a try.
But Omiyoshu Kintake is a man with secrets and a past, and the more time the boys spend in his tutelage, the more they discover about his life and heritage. He is Shinobi, a religious devotee to the teachings of Ninpo, and he does everything by a code of honor.
The timeline bounces between the past and the present, giving readers the chance to discover how two “normal” boys who grew up as the sons of an American officer stationed in Japan and his fiery wife become mercenaries and assassins. Slowly, chapter-by-chapter, the truth comes out, though it isn’t until the climax that every doubt is removed.
The narration is in third person and not for the faint of heart, as the gore is quite deliberate and precise. At times, the description can feel quite clinical, to where readers learn more than they need to and even more than the characters are aware of noticing in the moment. The dialogue can feel under-motivated, with characters screaming and yelling at each other without showing the reader why they’re so upset.
Similarly, it feels like the story could’ve done more to make the mystery of the boys’ experiences clearer, to drop clues and hints in ways that readers could pick up on, to where they could feel some of the complications coming instead of having them surprise them. There weren’t quite any deus ex machina moments, but a couple times, the narration came awfully close, and it seemed like a story of this length could’ve provided the setup such events needed to feel natural and believable.
There were also moments when it was hard to care what happened, where it felt like the killings were pointless—especially early on, when one didn’t know Terry and Yuri well enough yet had to watch as they destroyed lives left and right. Still, over time, the narration did a fine job of showing the characters as caring about their lives and choices, despite what they found themselves stuck doing.
This is a thoughtful gem of an action novel, bringing grit, suspense, and heart to the world of killing. Those who enjoy a lot of action and detailed battle scenes balanced with a pinch of romance and a camaraderie between brothers will enjoy this story.
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