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A Gathering Of Widowmakers by Mike Resnick
Review by Drew Bittner
Meisha Merlin Publishing, Inc. Unbound  ISBN/ITEM#: 1592220851
Date: October, 2005 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

The original Jefferson Nighthawk contracted a degenerative disease and was in suspended animation for a century, awaiting a cure. The economy tanked, however, and he ran out of money well before a cure was developed. He had a clone created, who took on the Widowmaker mantle and earned money to keep Nighthawk alive. The clone ultimately died in action and another was created, a copy with all of Nighthawk's memories. He found love and, once Nighthawk was safely cured, retired from the business.

Now a third clone is learning the ropes, with an aide-de-camp named Kinoshita. Kinoshita helped train the previous clones and is dedicated to serving the Widowmaker. When an unexpected conflict pits the second and third clones against each other, however, Kinoshita decides that the original has to solve this problem.

Lured out of retirement, Jefferson Nighthawk says that the second clone made one mistake: he attacked another Nighthawk. That is unforgivable... and he knows he hasn't properly trained the renegade clone. Problem is, how to find a bounty hunter in all of known space? Nighthawk, with characteristic directness, knows that if someone starts collecting high-price bounties, news will reach the young clone. So, with Kinushita, the original Widowmaker goes to the nastiest hellhole in the galaxy and starts taking down some major players.

Villains like Hairless Jack Bellamy, invulnerable to any handheld weapon; Cleopatra Rome, who plays the deadliest of mind games; and the Wizard, armed with the power to manipulate reality...one by one, they fall to the Widowmaker.

The gambit works and Nighthawks meet up, though the original is distracted by a threat to his home and his wife. With that unpleasantness concluded, however, they are free to address a problem the second clone left the hospital (and life support) to pursue: a danger to an old friend by the enigmatic alien Younger Brothers. Nothing is known about these aliens, except that they've never been defeated......and there's an enormous bounty on their heads.

Resnick is in fine form, returning his Widowmaker character to print after too long an absence. The guy is a brutal pragmatist, unswayed by sentiment or greed, with a direct and lethal response to most problems. The challenges he faces are remarkable and his solutions are equally inventive. He doesn't go out of his way to kill--the violence is never gratuitous--but he doesn't shy away either. In bits and pieces, his philosophy and backstory are both revealed...and a killing machine becomes human beneath many layers of emotional armor and detachment.

At the same time, the clones show how differently people can turn out, even with the same genetic profile. Each one has a distinct personality, even though some of the same qualities recur in all three. Kinoshita proves an excellent sidekick, his questions (like those a reader might have) shot down like clay pigeons by The Widowmaker.

Fans of loner heroes in SF probably already know about the Widowmaker, but if they don't...well, here's a great place to start.

Recommended.

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