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The Sharp End by David Drake
Published by Baen Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
The Sharp End by David Drake is a development of his old Hammer's Slammers series, which is about a futuristic corps of mercenaries. By the time of this book Alois Hammer has long since retired from active command and become the president of the frontier world of Niew Friesland. However, his followers are still in the mercenary business.
This novel is about a team of six people -- five men and one woman -- who all have deep traumas due to terrible things that they've seen in their careers as soldiers. They go to Cantilucca, a world run by two rival druglords who don't seem to care about anything except making the biggest profits and cutting their rival out of the business. These thugs casually rape, murder and steal and regard everyone else as either rival or prey.
The state of affairs disgusts even these six hardened mercenaries who thought they'd seen it all. However they can't just call in the big guns to clean up the mess on this world. Defeating the two rival gangs requires great skill in manipulation, letting each side think that they are hiring mercenaries against the other, until everything finally comes to a head and they can get both of the leaders to destroy themselves.
However one puzzle was never resolved in the course of the novel -- the identity of Johann Vierziger, the slender, beautiful man who could kill without a second thought and who may not be human at all. One of the characters suspected that he was actually Joachim Steuben, who was Alois Hammer's personal bodyguard and shared many of his characteristics, including a fondness for carrying a handgun with an inlaid grip in a cutaway holster. However this same person knew that Steuben had been shot in the back and that reliable witnesses had seen him die. It seemed to hint that either Steuben was cloned to make Vierziger, or that Steuben/Vierziger was some kind of nonhuman lifeform that could survive that kind of wound and survive, and could also mimic a human.
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Review posted December 16, 1998