There is a world inside the world
The Kills is a 2013 Man Booker Prize nominated volume from Richard House which is comprised of four stand-alone novels. The Hit is the fourth of these novels.
In Don DeLillo’s classic 1988 novel Libra, a fictionalized Lee Harvey Oswald repeatedly insists that “There is a world inside the world.” Emphasizing his belief that buried beneath the surface of the visible, lurking just out of sight, is some second layer of complex hidden truths that are driven by incomprehensible machinations, this succinct statement compactly echoes the fear of conspiracy theorists and paranoid delusionists the world over.
Oh, there’s a world inside the fucking world alright, and Richard House is more than adequately equipped to show it to you. In fact, the further I progressed in my reading of his Booker nominated epic The Kills, the more I became convinced that it’s the best novel Don DeLillo never got around to writing. In the 1980s DeLillo’s The Names (bizarre language cults), White Noise (an airborne toxic event) and Libra (the Kennedy assassination) all intelligently toyed with seemingly good people that became caught up in highly amplified circumstances involving treacherous schemes and suspicious dealings. The Kills follows in these footsteps, and while House’s dialog might not be nearly as opaque as DeLillo’s, his no-nonsense approach to fast-paced, straight-forward storytelling helps him to achieve the same essential results. Even in this final installment of a four book series, the messages “Trust No One” and “Believe Nothing” burst through as loud and as clear as ever.
Approaching the end, you’d expect to find House in wrap-up mode, busily going about the tedious job of dotting every i and crossing every t in an attempt to conclude of all of the dangling little subplots he’s left hanging around over the last 700 pages. Think again.
While The Hit does do an amazing job of tying together the conspiracy plot of the Sutler (book one) and The Massive (book two) with the heinous murder that occurred in The Kill (book three), House isn’t as concerned with providing an adequate closure as he is with drilling home a sense of the cold hard realization that nothing ever ends and that not every question is wholly answerable. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s one that grants House the freedom to conclude things in a much more satisfactory manner.
For this final entry in the saga we are returned right back to where things essentially began: the hunt for Stephen Lawrence Sutler. Through the rampant spread of misinformation and lies, three different possibilities for the whereabouts of Sutler have emerged as credible. Was he recently struck dead by a pair of high speed train in Italy? Perhaps he was spotted in Grenoble? Better yet, burned beyond all recognition, has his nearly lifeless body just been recovered in the Syrian Desert? None of these options sound all that promising, but of them all, the third is clearly the most intriguing, and that’s the one that Henning Bastian wants to follow-up on.
The lives of Henning, a member of the German Consulate who played a bit role in the first book, and his pregnant wife’s sister Rike are those which claim center stage here. While Henning’s busy arranging the transfer of Sutler possible #3 to a local hospital that specializes in treating burn victims, Rike is as equally occupied teaching English to a mysterious man who calls himself Tomas Berens. Neither could ever have imagined the shocking turn that both of their lives are about to take.
The Hit offers a stunning conclusion to one of the most surprising novels to find its way on to this year’s Man Booker longlist. As much as the judges deserve major credit for plucking this masterpiece from the depths of possible obscurity, they’ve still got some work to do. Hopefully come September 10th they’ll advance The Kills, in all of its four-book glory, to the final shortlist where it belongs.