Even though I’m only halfway through the novel, I’m going to post a review of The Kills by Richard House.
The Kills is one thousand and three pages long.
I know some of you are thinking with a little bit of editing it could have been a perfect 1000 pages long. How cool would that have been.
The Kills is the kind of espionage/thriller that doesn’t really make sense until the last few pages so I’ll have to wait until I finish the book to really talk about it. I’ll either understand it all at last or be so completely lost that being lost is the point of the book. Think Dashiell Hammet’s Red Harvest.
There are two points I want to discuss about The Kills so far.
The first is how many of the characters are looking for people who don’t exist. In the first book, Sutler, the characters are looking for the title character who is really just a pseudonym. In order for one character, Ford, to work on a massive city building project in Iraq, he has to take on a fake identity. The problem is he has already done some work for the company in charge and cannot double-dip as himself. His boss, Paul Geezler, convinces him to become Sutler so he can go to Iraq and do the job.
After a job site explosion, Sutler disappears holding key documents and dog-tags with the codes to several bank accounts. The people looking for Sutler don’t know that there is no Sutler. Meanwhile Sutler is looking for an American college student he met along the way who may have stolen the dog-tags containing the codes to his bank accounts. Neither Sutler nor the boy’s mother who is also looking for him know that the boy is most likely dead.
This idea of people searching for people who don’t exist extends into book two, The Massive, which takes place before book one and is about a small group of men running a burn pit used to destroy goods that cannot be taken home once the allies pull out of Iraq. The burn pit area is to become the location of Sutlers planned city. None of the men know what is really going on at the burn pit, even Sutler seems unaware of the real plans behind the city building project, which appears to be just plans with no real intent to actually build anything at all.
This all makes for a slow burn kind of tension. It’s a little too easy to put down The Kills, not just because the thing weighs a couple of pounds, but once you’re reading again you can’t help but become involved in the story, even when you’re not sure what’s going on, probably because you’re not sure what’s going on.
The second thing I want to discuss is how The Kills deals with the homefront. The wives and mothers, plus a couple of brothers and fathers, back home follow Iraq on the news of course, but what was a new reading experience for me at least is the way they find each other through social media and are able to keep themselves even more informed about Iraq than their family members who are in Iraq.
Once the families find each other, they begin sharing information including just about everything their sons and husbands tell them about what is going on in Iraq. Since the men in Iraq don’t tell each other everything, the end result is they know less about each other than their families back home do. They also know less about the company they are working for and what it is up to than their wives who have been researching, emailing people in charge, and sharing their findings in an on-line community.
This is a new aspect of warfare, the fact that those serving in-country are not cut off from their homes anymore. They can participate in a fire-fight with the enemy in the afternoon and spend the evening dealing with minutia of daily life back home in England or America. Our grandfathers and grandmother, in comparison, were completely cut off from home life except for occasional letter or cassette tape. That one can get a phone call from back home while on the battlefield must make for a very disconcerting experience.
I’m taking a break from The Kills because a few books I had on reserve came in at the library. I’ll probably go back to it sometime next week and post a second review once I’ve finished it. Turns out, there is an enhanced e-book version featuring recordings and short movies which I didn’t know about until reading it in The Guardian’s review. If you’ve done the enhanced version, I’d love to hear about it. I can say that I have not missed having additional bells and whistles so far. The book is excellent even with just the printed word.
Good books are like that.