“The Killing Kind” by Chris Holm

The Killing Kind by Chris HolmA hitman who only kills other hitmen. That’s a high-concept pitch akin to the “Dexter” series (about a serial killer who only kills other serial killers). The antihero of Holm’s thriller is Michael Hendricks, former special-ops in the U.S. military, who went off the grid after a couple of missions went horribly wrong. He even let his fiancée assume he was dead.

“Once his fever broke and the swelling in his brain abated, his memories returned—and with them, the crushing guilt of all the innocents he’d killed… As far as the military was concerned, Hendricks was dead—which meant Evie thought him dead as well. It was for the best, he told himself. He never could have faced her knowing what he’d become—a monster, a ghost.”

To atone for his past transgressions, Hendricks now identifies targets due to be assassinated by the Mafia (any Mafia will do: Russian, Italian, Cuban…). He offers to help them, for a price: “The smart ones paid. The ones that didn’t weren’t around too long to regret it.” The only people Hendricks will help are ones he considers “innocents.” Helping him track down the would-be victims is his computer-genius buddy Lester, who served with Hendricks in the military and came back with serious war wounds (both his legs were blown off).

Hendricks decides to help a seemingly hapless guy named Eric Purkhiser, an ex-IT dude in the witness protection program after turning on his former employers in the Atlanta mob. Eric made the news when he won a $6 million jackpot at a Kansas City casino. His new identity wasn’t enough to keep him off the mob’s radar. To collect the dough, Eric is required to return to the casino to pick up his giant novelty-sized check.

Ultimately, Eric’s big ceremony at the casino attracts no fewer than three hitmen: the one out to get Purkhiser; Hendricks, out to get Purkhiser’s would-be assassin; and one out to get Hendricks (i.e. a hitman hired to kill the hitman who only kills other hitmen). And then there are the two FBI agents tracking Hendricks.

Up until this point (about 1/3 of the way into the book), I was enjoying its combination of fast-paced action and black humor. But once the hitmen start squaring off, the body count goes sky-high and the book becomes incredibly violent, with descriptions of blood, gore and torture that almost left me nauseated. I’ve read so many thrillers that it’s pretty hard to shock me at this point, but I’ll admit that The Killing Kind, while well-written and plotted, was so hardboiled that I wasn’t 100% sure I’d be able to finish it. Nevertheless, I did (hey, I wanted to know what happened!), but after reading this book and Lee Child’s Make Me back-to-back, I think I’m ready to follow them up with something much, much lighter.

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