The Contractor by Charles Holdefer

Charles Holdefer was kind enough to contact me through LibraryThing after reading that I had been reviewing fiction lately, and sent me a copy of his excellent novel The Contractor. At first I had thought this wasn’t the type of thing that usually appealed to me at all—it seemed possibly a little violent, and I’m not normally a fan of fiction that’s overly current. A novel about the equivalent of Blackwater felt more like Tom Clancy than the lit fic I’m used to, but I decided to give it a go. And damn, was I wrong about what to expect.

The Contractor, while about a private contractor performing interrogations for the US government, is far from simply a novel about the current war. George Young, a veteran-turned-private-interrogator, narrates a fascinating story just as much about the inner life of a middle aged husband and father as about terrorists and secret detention facilities.

Young makes great money and his family can live with him on an unidentified tropical island, but that hardly makes life easy. His job has put a strain on his marriage—and stressed his wife enough to make her at least a borderline alcoholic. And he still has to deal with all the typical worries of a father: is his young son possibly gay; how can he navigate Christmas with super-religious in-laws; how should he deal with a brother who betrayed his trust? And on top of it all, he’s got a pretty emotionally draining day job.

Young’s first-person narration is excellent. Every thought, tangent, flashback, and chain of logic felt just right, and I was impressed by how comprehensible I found a person so superficially different from myself. I was fascinated by him and raced through the book. Those who would normally avoid fiction about current events, or violence, should not be put off by the subject matter. This is very much a novel of family life, introspection, and self-examination, and written in excellent prose, too.