The Killing Kind by Chris Holm

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Reviewed by David Harris

At first sight, this book was surprisingly different from the previous books of Holm’s that I had read: his Collector series was a noir-tinged fantasy trilogy featuring an operative who scooped up souls as their owners died – perhaps a smoother, wise-cracking version of Terry Pratchett’s Death.

The central character of The Killing Kind is Hendricks, who doesn’t collect the souls he sends to – wherever they go – but simply bumps off their owners. Hendricks is a very particular sort of hitman, focussing exclusively on other hitmen. Somehow he’s got a line on who the organised crime gangs want killed, and, amazingly, it turns out the intended victims will pay a pretty penny to avoid ending up dead.

I sense perhaps that Holm is a little uneasy about a book where the hero is an out and out criminal and he takes care to give Hendricks reasons for taking up this particular line in crime: chiefly guilt – at surviving when the rest of his US Army unit died, at what they’d done before that,  a desire to atone – and of course there’s also the degree of scrupulousness that he shows in only killing killers (albeit still for profit). So this book doesn’t go so far as to endorse cold blooded murder. Hendricks is also contrasted which another killer, formed by different experiences, who is less moral and, essentially, kills for the buzz of killing.

To be honest though, for me, those moral niceties took something of a back seat to the relentless action, which is the main element in the book, coupled with Hendricks’ ingenuity at doing what he does, and above all, the dramatic hunt that ensues when the Mob discover someone is messing with their plans. Of course they buy in another legendary assassin and of course we end up with a full-blooded duel – and of course there is plenty of carnage along the way.  There isn’t much more to the plot than that, although there are plenty of twists and turns along the way.

In some respects, perhaps then, it’s not so different from the Collector books. The main distinction is less the lack of supernatural stuff than the simpler plot – here we don’t have the complicated eschatological battle lines of the earlier trilogy. But the writing is as punchy and the stakes as high.

It’s not a deep character study, everyone in the book is rather two dimensional, doing what they need to but not really stepping off the page: so we have the killers, the work driven cops, the ex girlfriend, the old Army pal, filling their roles faithfully and acting more or less as you’d expect but doing no more (I’d make an exception for a washed up nightclub entertainer who does rather come alive) but the writing has great pace and, once begun, this book demands to be finished (actually it doesn’t so much demand as grab you by lapels and make you read it). There is peril. There is a scary body count (so much so that it’s entirely feasible no one will survive by the end) with ingenious deaths. There is a world weary, disillusioned hero who has to learn again what he will fight for.

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David blogs at Blue Book Balloon. A former physicist, he is married to a vicar and lives by a village green sometimes used to film Midsomer Murders, but has, against the odds, survived so far. David works in tax but promises he isn’t going to bring that up here.

Chris Holm, The Killing Kind (Mulholland Books: London,  2015). 9781473606142,  320pp., hardback.

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