‘Kills’ is interlocking set of four novels under a single cover

08/24/2014 7:20 AM

08/24/2014 7:20 AM

“The Kills” by Richard House (Picador, 912 pages, $35)

If you’d like to immerse yourself in a novel, and if you’re skeptical of a world in which private contractors get away with dirty deeds outside the reach of the law, let me introduce you to Richard House’s “The Kills.”

Published in England in 2013 and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, “The Kills” is an interlocking set of four novels under a single cover. It centers on a Brit named John Jacob Ford, who has taken a contract in Iraq for a shady multinational. On virtually a moment’s notice, Sutler is directed to disappear – a multimillion-dollar swindle is about to be exposed, and in return for taking the public fall and going underground, Sutler/Ford will be rewarded with hefty cash in a bank account. His escape, his difficulties trying to access the account, and an intense, multinational hunt for him drive much of the action.

Forget about the fog of war; “The Kills” reeks of the filth of war – one set of contractors is burning garbage in the desert, filling the sky with toxic fumes, in a burn pit that doesn’t officially exist. This seems to be an apt emblem for how civilian contractors are used in today’s warfare.

I’m about 35 percent of the way into the thousand-plus-page book, but I’ve read enough to assent to the publisher’s description of “The Kills” as a cross between John le Carre’s spy novels and Roberto Bolano’s mammoth “2666.” “The Kills” has the world-weary, deadpan tone a la le Carre, and a sense of the world falling apart that Bolano might have approved of.

Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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