I'm trying to pin down a science fiction novel I once glanced at. English language, published in paperback, not by any "famous author" whose name I recognized at the time. "At the time" was in the mid-1990s; no later than 1996. The copy I looked at was not something brand new at the time; it was probably at least a year or two old before I stumbled across it.
I think I read the first two or three chapters, at least, and then skipped ahead to glance through the final pages to see if the story was going to improve any. (I'm pretty sure I decided the answer was "No!" At any rate, I never actually forced myself to read the entire volume.)
I remember nothing about the ending, but I do recall the basic plot of the first chapter or so.
From the text, and perhaps the cover art (which I don't remember with any precision), I gathered that the first part of the book, at least, was set in the main city of a human-inhabited planet, definitely not Earth, a long time in the future, and that this planet (or the part surrounding the city, at least?) was mostly desert, with people bundling themselves up in loose clothing to try to block out the sunlight and dust in the air. Similar to "Dune," perhaps, but without any mention of stillsuits or giant sandworms, and (I'm pretty sure) without the Local Tyrant paying tribute to some far-off Emperor who had given him control of this world as a fiefdom.
In the opening chapter, the main viewpoint character (third-person viewpoint; not narrating the story to us) is an important member of his homeworld's Assassin's Guild. At some time in the last few years, he had fought hard (politically) to get the planetary laws changed so that the Guild acquired solid legal standing and could accept money from anybody to assassinate anybody else. He evidently had hoped that this would bring about a brave new world in which being a professional assassin would mean you were an honest-to-goodness independent contractor, providing a legitimate service, without being under anybody's thumb.
I'm going to call this viewpoint character "Mister Protagonist," since I can't recall a thing about his real name, nor his exact rank within the Guild. The author goes to a great deal of trouble, at least in the early pages, to stress the fact that Mister Protagonist had been very proud of his previous political victory at the time -- but is now facing serious disillusionment about the painful gap between his original expectations and the bitter reality of how things have turned out. The author went to so much trouble, in fact, that I was rapidly becoming convinced that the aforementioned political struggle had been at the heart of the plot in a previous novel. (Although I don't think the cover text on this book said anything so explicit as "Book 2 of the Assassin's Guild Series," so I had not realized I was getting a "sequel novel" when I first picked it up!)
A year or two after the local rules had changed, the opening sequence of the book is occurring. Mister Protagonist is out in the streets of the city, on a new mission along with one or more of his fellow guild members. The general situation appears to be this: Ordering a legal assassination is expensive, and this world's most powerful man (hereafter called by the nickname "Local Tyrant") is the person who can most easily afford to hire the Guild, over and over, to go after any people who have angered him. Which means that, even as the assassins are kicking down the front door at the target's residence (or whatever their entry method is), an angry crowd of local residents gathers in the street nearby. These civilians take the position that the Guild is basically just the amoral hired thugs of the Local Tyrant, constantly at his beck and call to keep everyone else living in fear.
Mister Protagonist tries to argue the point about his beloved Guild actually being "independent." But even he is painfully aware that his argument is far from persuasive in the light of recent events. Local Tyrant has far and away the deepest pockets on this planet, so he provides the vast majority of the Assassin's Guild's business. When they spend most of their time hunting down Local Tyrant's enemies and critics, it sounds really lame when they then say: "But we're politically neutral! We aren't on his permanent payroll!"
As I read this first chapter, I believe I was far from clear on why Local Tyrant's worst enemies didn't just pass the hat and all chip in to pay the standard Guild fee for an assassination, and then direct the Guild to treat Local Tyrant as their new Designated Target! It seemed like the simplest solution to the problem that Local Tyrant was abusing his power and making lots of people hate him . . .
Anyway, while I didn't feel the writing was brilliant, I do find myself curious about just who wrote this book, and what its title was. It's conceivable that the book had hidden depths which might strike me more favorably if I gave it another chance after more than two decades. (Or perhaps if I glanced at the first book in the series first, if I'm correct that this one was a sequel.) Does anyone think this book sounds familiar?
Bearing in mind that it definitely was not written by anyone who was already a Very Big Name in the science fiction industry of the mid-1990s -- I'm sure this book was by someone I literally had never heard of before. That eliminates any stories about futuristic professional assassins which may have been written by such people as Poul Anderson, Gordon R. Dickson, Roger Zelazny, C.J. Cherryh, etc. (And I'm sure it was science fiction, rather than having "a medieval fantasy world setting" with professional assassins running around in it, such as we have seen in books by Robin Hobb, Tanya Huff, Steven Brust, etc.)