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The Kills (2013)

by Richard House(Favorite Author)
3.18 of 5 Votes: 5
1447237862 (ISBN13: 9781447237860)
review 1: A war novel with no soldiers and no fighting. A mystery within a mystery novel. A meditation on fraud and memory. Whatever you call it, this massive story cycle or collection of related books -- shall we call it a quadtych (my own, very bad neologism) manages despite its 1,000 page length to hold one's attention with a cavalcade of characters, settings, hurling plots and, well, mysteries. It wouldn't work, of course, if the writing weren't so damned good, which it certainly is -- the chilly lovechild of an unholy three-way between Patricia Highsmith, Graham Greene and John LeCarre, and maybe a soupcon of David Foster Wallace's brilliance at making the quotidian quite compelling. The first book, in which a military contract executive in Iraq escapes from what becomes the ... morecentral event of the story cycle -- the fleecing of a multi-million-dollar budget for a brand new desert city in war-torn Iraq. Our hero is a dupe, under the sway of the puppetmaster who hired him, and who runs the Halliburton-like contract firm. His misadventures on the run in Turkey and Malta with some German filmmakers made me think of Greene. By the time we finish the cycle, though, most of the assumptions about who did what and who knew what are brought into question, or at the least, high relief. Set in Malta, we have a diplomatic family in disarray, having fled chaos in Syria, cleverly intertwined with the Russian Mafia, corporate hitmen, language schools and various factotems who are still trying to figure out what happened to those pursuing our original fugitive. Hovering above both stories is the tale of a bloody multiple murder which imitates a crime in a novel -- this is the subject of the third book, set in Naples. Baroque double switchback would be how I'd describe that plot. Is everyone lying? I would not want to leave out book #2, which is in some ways the most rooted in the point of the whole exercise, since it's set in Iraq and involves a range of men, recruited to run a remote "burn site" in the desert, up until the point when they learn that this is to be the site of the new "Liberty City." Chronologically, its events come first. Gritty, confounding, confusing, maddening, this is the world of military contracting and the time-honored methods of fleecing governments and exploiting the working class. If you've got the time, this masterpiece is worth the effort.
review 2: If you have ever been to a Billy Connoly gig you'll understand clearly what I am saying about the Kills. Billy starts a story, goes off the path, starts another story, but eventually brings everything together later in the show. The Kills is sort of like that but more challenging. At over 1,000 pages in fairly small print the desire to finish this book wilted at times but I was damned if I was going to give up. The story revolves around Stephen Sutler in post-war Iraq. He ostensibly works for one of those murky "contractors" whose tasks are often questionable, and to whom the US Government funnels millions of dollars each year. After an explosion at a remote US post Sutler disappears, along with 50 million dollars. From there the story lurches every which way and is complex to say the least. Often you're left wondering what on earth the current chapter has to do with the story you started out on. The conclusion is not all that evident either but somehow you feel compelled to keep going to the bitter end. This was an even longer read that Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries and was also short listed for the Booker Prize. Eleanor's book is more satisfying but the Kills also draws you in, almost against your better judgement. less
Reviews (see all)
this is a long omnibus full of wonderful writing that amounted to nothing. I want my two months back
Very meandering and confusing. I was compelled to finish it, but found it ultimately unsatisfactory.
Uninspired, superficial, straight-up thriller. Not shabbily executed, but ultimately not engaging.
Man booker prize finalist
Booker 7-13
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