I suppose I should’ve seen it coming. After all, I’m the one who wrote a book about a hitman who hits hitmen. It’s no surprise folks want to know which hitman novels inspired it.
The fact is, while I’m as fond of hitman stories as any lifelong crime-fic fan, only one of the books that inspired The Killing Kind features hitmen in any meaningful capacity. So rather than phoning in a list of Five Hitman Novels, Four of Which I Never Once Thought of While Writing The Killing Kind But Which I Happen to Quite Like, I thought I’d talk about five books that actually did inspire it.
First, a note. It may irk some readers to discover there are no books by women on this list. As someone who reads widely, it irks me a little, too. If this were a list of my ten favorite mysteries and thrillers, Patricia Highsmith, Katherine Neville, Donna Tartt, and Megan Abbott would make appearances—but alas, their writing didn’t (consciously) inform this book.
Donald Westlake, writing as Richard Stark
Westlake is one of my literary idols. His Parker books might be my favorite series of all time. I chose The Hunter in particular because it introduces the ruthlessly professional thief, and because it’s as muscular and concise a tale of double-crossing and revenge as you’ll ever read. Parker’s nobody’s idea of a good man, but damn if he ain’t compelling—largely because it’s so much fun to watch him work. I’d like to think that—when we first meet him, at least—Michael Hendricks of The Killing Kind is cut from the same cloth.
John le Carré
I’m not sure why, but I went on a le Carré bender while I was working on The Killing Kind. Maybe that’s because le Carré, like Westlake, writes about work—although in le Carré’s case, the work’s not crime, but espionage. His novels ooze authority and set an impossibly high bar for any author hoping to dazzle readers with tradecraft. This, his breakout third novel, also happens to be a marvelously human tale of love, loss, and betrayal, and features an ending as bleak as the most hard-bitten noir.
I knew going into The Killing Kind that I didn’t want to shy away from Hendricks’s darkness. He’s a violent, damaged man, haunted by the things he’s done—but he’s not yet irredeemable. So, by way of contrast, I set out to create an antagonist who was gleefully, sadistically irredeemable—and what better template could there be than Hannibal Lecter?
Here it is: my token hitman novel. In truth, I could have picked any number of Leonard novels for this list, since I’m pretty sure I learned my book’s good guy (or, in my case, gal), bad guy, and worse guy all converge on one spot, to disastrous effect structure at his feet. But I chose this one—about a married couple who run afoul of two hired killers—because of the warmth and depth with which the Colsons’ marriage is portrayed. In The Killing Kind, Hendricks’s love for his high school sweetheart—who thinks him dead—is at once his greatest strength and greatest weakness, and one of the central tensions of the novel.
This one’s a bit of a cheat. See, I wrote the short story that served as the basis for The Killing Kind in 2010, and I didn’t read Darkly Dreaming Dexter (or watch the Showtime series it spawned) until 2012, when I was preparing to interview Lindsay at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego. With few exceptions (Thomas Harris, Chelsea Cain), novels about serial killers aren’t really my thing. I’m fascinated by what motivates people to kill, and serial killers require no motive—they’re simply wired wrong. But long before I ever read his books, Lindsay’s premise—a serial killer who hunts serial killers—felt to me like lightning in a bottle. So I twisted it to suit my own nefarious purposes—and made sure my killer had a conscience.
Chris Holm is an award-winning short-story writer whose work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and The Best American Mystery Stories 2011. His critically acclaimed Collector trilogy made over forty Year’s Best lists. His latest novel, The Killing Kind, is about a man who makes his living hitting hitmen, only to wind up a target himself. For links to Chris on Twitter and Facebook, visit www.chrisholmbooks.com.