It’s a killer concept. Unleash a righteous assassin, a hitman who exclusively stalks his own species, other hired guns. Let him loose against mafia mobsters in a perilous poacher-turned-gamekeeper role reversal. So far, so many deservedly dead bodies… but there’s more. There’s always another predator further up the foodchain, so in steps an ultimate über-assassin, hired by the bad guys to seek and destroy the good guy while he’s still killing bottom-feeder bad guys.
With such a rip-snortingly entertaining idea, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, you could bog down the first third of the story with some uncharacteristically cumbersome exposition which slows the action to a feeble crawl while delivering a metric tonne of back-story in stodgy, indigestible chunks. This is weird because author Chris Holm is entirely capable of spinning a satisfying dance of seven veils, as he so ably demonstrates in his excellent ‘Collector’ series of spookynatural noir. He’s previously used sophisticated storytelling to tease out the details of hidden histories with plenty of ‘show, don’t tell.’ Yet in The Killing Kind we’re subjected to a torrent of tell-tell-tell. I do wonder if he had a pedantic editor standing behind him, demanding more detail for the hard-of-thinking…
Anyway, once you get past the ‘secret origin’ stage, the action kicks off and the real fun lets rip. And boy, the second half of his book is a LOT of fun. Great pace, a clever and not unduly intricate plot; genuine tension, cracking attention to detail and lots of satisfying, nitty-gritty tradecraft. There are two stoating action set-pieces and some exquisitely executed sneaking-about sequences (the protagonist’s escape from Las Vegas is superbly well thought out and executed), matched with an intriguing cast of supporting characters – especially the female FBI agent who’s quietly determined to nail the ‘ghost’ assassin she’s been trailing. She steps outside of genre conventions and is all the more interesting a character for that.
Best of all, the villain is gloriously bad. Bad in a good way. Bad in the best possible way. Bad in a Hannibal Lecter way. A true sociopath, a man who’d extract information and extinguish the spark of life for his own amusement. For him, it’s a bonus that he gets paid to do this. He’s the perfect predator to turn the tables on the protagonist. The final third of the book is the absolute inverse of the opening chapters as the conflict between the two killers builds to its conclusion. Silence your phone: lock the door; unpack the Pringles. Once you pass the midway point you’ll want to read right through to the final menacing moment.
So this could’ve been the ultimate hard-boiled pulp fiction for crime-thriller fans. If you can get past the slow start (and you do need to read it all because later plot points don’t make sense without that earlier info) then The Killing Kind is a hugely rewarding thriller. But it was touch ‘n’ go for me – I came perilously close to packing it in at one point…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Killing Kind by Chis Holm is currently available as an ebook or in hardcover (we’d wait six months until the paperback comes out and the price drops…)