Sutler (The Kills: Book One)
A Novel by Richard House
2013 / 302 Pages
The Kills is a 2013 Man Booker Prize nominated volume from Richard House which is comprised of four stand-alone novels. Sutler is the first of these novels.
“Listen. There’s a problem and it can’t be solved. You need to disappear.”
Stringing together these thirteen simple words in a way that aches with urgency, Richard House launches into an alluring piece of political crime fiction that sidesteps the trappings of the genre tag placed on it and boldly defies classification. Some might argue that this particular “type” of novel doesn’t merit a spot on the Man Booker longlist. They’d be wrong.
After being accused of stealing roughly 53 million dollars from the Haliburton-esqe company HOSCO, John Jacob Ford, aka Stephen Lawrence Sutler, finds himself on the run. The money was intended as funding for a project known as “The Massive” which would build a brand new city in the desert of Iraq. Sutler played the role of the budget holder. After an explosion rocks the base where he’s stationed in Iraq, Sutler finds himself recast as the fugitive in a race against time, not to clear his obviously false, obviously dubious reputation, but to instead escape the Middle East and cash in on his promised reward for a job well done. Unfortunately for him however, this task is proving to be far more difficult than he could have ever imagined.
That premise sets the stage for a complex, multi-layered tale of international espionage, complete with crooked corporations, corrupt businessmen, and a complex cast of secondary players that includes an insurance claims adjuster who sets out in search of both Sutler and the truth, only to discover that it’s much easier, and far more rewarding, to bend the situation at hand to suit his own personal desires.
Putting all of that aside however, what makes Sutler work so effectively is House’s springboard approach to storytelling. Yes, the novel literally begins with a bang, but from there it becomes a gloriously descriptive trip through exotic locations that finds itself driven not by the inherent danger of the protagonist’s current situation, but by a set of exquisitely crafted characters that all have very real and very complex motivations of their own. Ultimately, it’s the penetrating moments spent probing the depths of human desire that wreak far more devastation upon the novel’s subjects than any physical explosion could ever hope to achieve, and House readily continues to detonate these emotional bombs for each and every one of them to attempt to survive throughout the course of the novel.
Striving for three dimensionality by grounding his tale of espionage and corporate corruption with beautifully nuanced and fatally flawed characters, House’s novel quickly becomes so much more than its original premise should ever allow. Sutler is more than a novel about a man on the run.
It’s about a mother who uncovers a shocking secret about her son that could change everything. It’s about a young film student desperate to make some sort of connection with another human being that will transcend sexual desire. It’s about a paranoid filmmaker playing a dangerous game. It’s about an unlikely pair of journalists who simply can’t get out of their own way.
It’s about how all of these disparate stories fit together. It’s about connections, missed opportunities, and wasted potential. It’s also more than just a book.
House extends his characters beyond the confines of the written page by including web links to supplemental audio clips and video presentations at the end of key sections. These pieces don’t tie-in directly to the main narrative, but instead offer up even more exquisite detail and backstory about each of the novel’s major players.
All of these pieces combine to make Sutler a smart, entertaining, intoxicating read that not only offers up the promise of a taut puzzle to work the reader’s brain, but also manages to pull off the impressive task of opening up their hearts, and quite possibly their tear ducts, at the same time.