Longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, Richard House’s third novel, The Kills, is quite simply massive in every sense. Originally published as four separate e-books, The Kills brings together Sutler, The Massive, The Kill and The Hit into an ambitious volume of satisfying and gripping crime conspiracies which stretches to over 1000 pages in length.
This review is concerned primarily with the printed edition of The Kills rather than the digital editions, as the two formats provide a slightly different experience for the reader. In the digital editions, short films, audio clips and animations are embedded on the page alongside the text, transporting the reader beyond the printed word to other representations of the fictional world of House’s vibrant characters and complex conspiracies. The digital collection expands the novel as a sensory experience, giving the reader the ultimate choice of whether to approach the third novel The Kill by character or chronology. This flexibility gives a fascinating insight into the construction of House’s narrative while also providing a seamless connection between the text and the complementary multimedia experience.
The Kills is concerned with the aftermath of the Iraq War and a series of conspiracies surrounding missing millions and dubious private contractors all hidden under a shroud of secrecy. Though this plot may at first appear a little predictable, The Kills proves to be anything but, presenting a relatively fresh story where civilians are the focus; while the well trodden viewpoint of the military and government are never explored.
In an interweaving narrative which comprises both Sutler and The Massive, House presents the story of Stephen Sutler, a classic “man on the run”, who is accused of the theft of over 50 million dollars. Beyond Sutler, House explores the shady dealings of HOSCO, a thinly veiled literary counterpart to organisations such as Halliburton; however, House remains focussed upon the plot, never sliding into politically motivated satire. In The Massive, the subsequent deaths of several members of the Camp Liberty contractors after they are unwittingly exposed to toxic fumes, are described in visceral terms. In combining the two narratives, House’s construction of a thriller is one unconstrained by the normal rules of chronology.
In the fourth and final novel, The Hit, several “sutlers”, a term now defined as “a person or company which provides for the military”, are suspected of the original theft and this thread sees the crime thriller plot through to its conclusion. However, it is House’s third novel, The Kill which stands somewhat apart from the story of Sutler and proves to be the most intriguing and beguiling, if somewhat bewildering, section of the quartet. Here, the reader is presented with a murder mystery set in Naples, marking the point where House truly sets forth into the world of the metafictional. Indeed, as it turns out, the characters and world described in The Kill are in fact themselves a fiction, read and viewed by characters from the other books in The Kills, a move that proves to be an intriguing, ambitious and impressive narrative direction taken by House. However, if there is any real criticism to be levelled at The Kills, it is that this third section is overwhelmingly dense, with too much story to tell. Indeed, this density proves particularly troubling in the printed edition as the book must be approached chronologically rather than by character, resulting in much re-reading.
Where the printed edition lacks the novelty and some of the scope provided by the multimedia features available in the digital version, it is still an outstanding example of compelling populist fiction. Ultimately, The Kills is an epic crime meta-thriller; Richard House provides such an intriguing narrative that the reader cannot but try and make sense of such a wonderfully puzzling saga.