Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A hitman who only kills hitmen

The Killing Kind

By Chris Holm

Publisher: Mulholland Books 

Pub Date: September 15, 2015

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

When one writes a novel featuring a hitman, there seems to be a problem followed by a cliche. How do you make a career killer sympathetic? In the movies and novels the usual way is to write your hitman as a person with some values like, "I don't kill women and children" or "I only kill the bad guys". I have always found this, if necessary to provide empathy, a troubling solution. Do people really think the type of person who becomes a career killers is going to make these type of moral limits. "Only in the movies", as they say. Recently, the ante has been upped as we find books like The Serial Killer Club and the Dexter series where all of a sudden Serial killers are now developing moral consciences killing only other serial killers. As much as I enjoy Dexter both as a TV series and a series of novels, how long can this cliche continue without becoming a joke?

In The Killing Kind, Chris Holms brings up this dilemma again. In this very visceral thriller, Michael Hendricks is a hit man who only kills other hitmen. He, with the help of his technically savvy friend, finds people who have a hit out on them. He offers to kill the ones who will do the dirty deed for ten times the fee that was offered to the hitman. The trick is making Hendricks believable and Holms is up to the task. He builds an unlikely but intriguing premise where Hendricks is a black ops soldier who has been thought to have been killed in action. He then builds his character up with the appropriate guilt and emotional baggage, Our damaged but emphatic assassin tends to stay away from the victims who are killers themselves and chooses those who inform on or one ups the criminal organizations. So we end up with a significantly flawed but perversely likable individual who we can sufficiently root for. In other words, the author gives up something in the cliche that we have not seen before and earns our attention.

Yet now we need a villain who is ten times worse than our troubled hitman and the author gives him to us too. Holms can write some truly vicious bad guys. When the criminal organization realizes someone is killing their killers they send out the worst and the brightest. What comes out of it is a sharply written cat and mouse game that is high on adrenaline and crowded with hot and bloody action.

I believe it is this fast and furious action writing that really puts this thriller over the top, While Holm does his best to give us an emphatic hitman with human weakness and longings, he is able to hide the inevitable implausibility of it in terse and riveting action prose. He has written a page turner that is tough and intelligent despite it occasionally turning brain-dead.. Even when we start to say "Hey, wait a minute" we are already trapped in the ride. It is the best kind of bestselling suspense thriller, one that allows us to escape but doesn't talk down to the reader and says, "hey, just go with flow. It will be worth it."

So even if I felt suspicious with the idea of a hitman who only kills hitmen, it ended up working quite well. Certainly that can attributed to the author's own abundant writing skills but it was also because he took a different twist on an idea and ended up with something fairly original despite the danger of being a cliche. The Killing Kind ends up as one of the more entertaining and exciting suspense novels of the year.

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