"As he slept, he dreamt of dying. Of rebirth."
The second entry in Chris Holm's Michael Hendricks series, Red Right Hand, comes out next month (September 13, to be exact), and as a brief reminder of Hendricks's first outing (if you've read it) or precursor (if you've not), I thought this would be a good time to talk a bit about The Killing Kind.
Thought dead after his unit is devastated by an IED, Hendricks takes advantage of his newly deceased status to give his beloved fiance the life he thinks she deserves--one without him in it. Having lost his moral center in service, Hendricks tries the best way he knows to atone and balance his accounts--by killing.
Hendricks doesn't become just any old assassin, but an assassin of assassins. He's found a way to identify the targets of hits taken out by various crime families and when his investigation deems it warranted, Hendricks takes out the hitter before the hit goes down. For a price, of course.
When the Council, representatives of assorted New York crime families, figures out what's going on, they do what comes naturally--they hire a hitter to take out the hitter of their hitters. That right there, folks, is what you call a stellar story idea. But story is one thing, execution (see what I did there?) is a whole other target, and with The Killing Kind Holm has perfected his kill shot. (I'll stop soon, promise.)
What follows is about as close as you can get to a perfect thriller experience, as Holm masterfully wields every weapon (so I lied) in his writing arsenal. There are some truly clever f'ing moments in this novel, but they never come close to annoying or sanctimonious. I experienced several instances of "Oh damn, that was crafty." Holm uses every element of storytelling to his advantage.
Case in point, The Killing Kind's secondary and one-off characters. Particularly the (assumed) one-offs, who Holm uses artfully to set a scene or transition the plot. This runs the danger of becoming tedious filler, but it's done so well here that you're glad you've spent even a few pages or paragraphs with these characters, who meld so seamlessly into the rest of the story you don't even realize they were background. And in a book filled with hitmen, it's no small feat to make each one unique and interesting in their own right.
The scene-setting is fantastic. At different times I felt immersed in the sweltering heat of Miami (holy hell, Florida, I really don't think I want to visit you), a barbershop that had me stepping into 1953, a casino showroom, and a Southern California playground-cum-drug dealer's paradise. As a really tough audience for scene-setting work (I'm a little impatient to get on with it), these hit the sweet spot.
The Killing Kind has been nominated for just about every award the mystery community has to offer (Macavity, Anthony, Barry and Lefty), and rightfully so (it's also based on an Anthony-nominated short story, The Hitter, which you can find in this issue of the fabulous Needle Mag). The plotting is a jigsaw with no bent corners, no last piece you have to jam in to make it fit. It flows at a perfect pace while still providing flesh and detail that make the whole more special and never feel superfluous.
Holm gets 1,000 bonus points from me for using Robert McCall as a pseudonym for Hendricks at one point, whether or not his intent was to evoke The Equalizer (only one of the best characters in television crime fiction evah).
STREET SENSE: More than worthy of all the nominations it has garnered, The Killing Kind is written with the leanness of a crime writer but the soul of a romantic. Now is the best time to pick up a copy, as you can slide right into Red Right Hand come September 13.
A FAVORITE PASSAGE: The booze had eaten through his stomach, his marriage, and his reputation, etching its mark deep into the lines of his face, into the broken corpuscles draped like lace across his nose and cheeks. It drove away his wife and friends, and left his children flinching every time the phone rang, not knowing if the voice at the other end would be that of their maudlin old man, or the inevitable rote sympathy of some faraway police officer, informing them they needn't flinch any longer.
COVER NERD SAYS: This is a great cover, despite the fact that the image looks disconcertingly like Chris himself. Even more so on the paperback edition, which makes me wonder if Mulholland has some genius cross-career plans for him (but which had nothing to do with the views expressed here). The Killing Kind's cover is lean and clean and representative without being testosterone-laden, which would have been an easy line to cross given the subject matter. (And psst, have you gotten a gander at the cover of Red Right Hand? Take a look at this beauty and tell me you don't want to get a copy just to hang on your wall.)