Lut describes the protagonist of Ghost, Mike Jenkins, as "not a nice person". This is a massive understatement. Over the course of several hundred pages, the protagonist kills dozens of people -- some of whom are shot in the back as they're trying to flee -- and brutally tortures and maims others for information.
I didn't mention this the last time I wrote about this book. Not because those things hadn't happened yet -- they had -- but because I didn't care. It was like "True Lies": "They were all bad men." He was killing and torturing terrorists who were in the midst of very nasty plots, and I just didn't care what happened to them. Although, incidentally, there were only two instances of the torture/maiming that I can think of, and neither of them actually yielded accurate information. It's questionable whether they even yielded useful information.
But there is one point, in the first novella I think, where a woman asks Jenkins "Have you ever raped a woman?" And he answers with something like "I don't think any of the prostitutes in Eastern Europe actually have a choice. I try to remember that. It helps." The character he's talking to says "I'll give you a pass for that."
And my thought at the time was Uh ... I'm not sure I'm willing to give him a pass for that.
Jenkins is established early on as having "issues" with sex. He gets involved in the first story because the girl he's stalking gets kidnapped by someone else. But he's also established as drawing the line at anything non-consensual. The narrator decribes him as wanting to be a rapist, but never doing it. And very consciously refusing to do it: not a matter of "can't work himself up to it" or "scared to" or anything, but "It's wrong, and I may want to do it, but it's wrong and I won't."
And then, in the third novella, he does.
He goes to a brothel in Serbia and buys a day with a Russian prostitute whose age he estimates at 15-17, and who was probably kidnapped and sold into slavery to the pimp she's working for. Then, over the course of several pages that I mostly skimmed because they were too brutal and sadistic to read, he rapes her several times.
And I don't mean "it's rape because she's in slavery and cannot consent or refuse". I mean "it's rape because he's hitting her, yelling at her, and getting off on making each of several sexual acts as horrible for her as possible without inflicting permanent injury or scars". Let me emphasize: this was a really ugly scene. I have a fairly high tolerance for ugliness, and this exceeded it on the first page.
It made me hate the character.
Lut pointed out that his victim was an enslaved prostitute and she'd probably been through worse. Or would go through worse. In fact, Jenkins feels guilty over the experience and ends up going back to purchase her and set her free. Which he even does in a decent fashion -- ie, not "free in Serbia where she'll probably end up enslaved again", but to Paris, where he offers to take care of her, or she can leave if she wants. Rather sensibly IMO, she leaves. Because he may be a guilty asshole but he's still an asshole and what reason does she have to trust him?
And none of this changes what he did, which was rape a girl who had done nothing wrong except be available when he decided to rape someone.
And, yeah, maybe that's realistic, maybe that's what some men are like, maybe it's what a lot of men are like and the radical feminists are right, hell, I don't know except that I absolutely refuse to believe that any of my friends would do that kind of crap and it's damned insulting to imply that they would. Sure, lots of people have rape fantasies. I have rape fantasies. Hello! Fantasy != Reality. Fantasizing about something is Very Different from going out and doing it, and I think the vast majority of people with fantasies of doing unpleasant, unhealthy things have zero desire to make them into reality.
I don't know. I can't forgive the character for that scene. I don't want to read more stories about him putting down bad guys and saving the day. I don't want to root for him, even if the alternatives that he's stopping are so much worse.
I don't want to give him a pass.
I do want to give the author, John Ringo, credit for one thing: he didn't flinch. A lot of authors have protagonists who "did horrible things" but the authors never show the characters doing them. They flinch from showing the worst side of the character. The reader is left thinking "he's not THAT bad". Ringo hinted at what was to come with that early line about prostitutes. When the time came, he didn't flinch from showing exactly what he meant. (Actually, the scene is described as 'the worst he's ever treated a woman' so whatever things he got a pass on earlier was presumably not as bad. Though who knows how bad that is?)
Another thing that bugged me about this was that, in the second novella, there's this whole long development of what struck me as a healthy, affectionate, BDSM relationship. And the same character who brutalizes this poor kid in Serbia was at some pains to teach a couple of girls how to be safe and sane about their fantasies. Including his own. During this novella, he avoids prostitutes deliberately, and he even says at one point that "without love, it's meaningless" or something like that. Something to emphasize that you don't just use people to make them hurt and miserable to get your jollies.
And then he does exactly that.
It's just so ... ugly. Like it's even worse because you can tell he knows better, and he just doesn't care.
There's another question here, the question of what you do in the face of evil. And I don't know what I would do if Mike Jenkins were real. Because he endure a lot of hell to save a lot of people, and if he were a real person ... I don't know. Do you forgive your monsters for being monsters because they're yours? Does forty-nine girls from rape and death by torture excuse you from raping one yourself? How do you weigh the good against the evil?
I don't know. But Mike Jenkins isn't a real person, and I don't have to forgive him, or read more about him.
I didn't realize how much this was bugging me until I started writing about it. I hope the cut-tag and spoiler-warning doesn't put everyone off from reading the post.