Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Holiday Fare

Dakotaraptor illustration by Emily Willoughby
One of the joys of bringing up my son was getting turned on to dinosaurs when he was obsessed with them in elementary school. I'm thrilled when a new dinosaur is discovered, such as the huge raptor whose 66-million-year-old remains were found recently in South Dakota. Dakotaraptor steini was 16 feet long, winged and feathered, but couldn't fly. This inability probably wasn't much consolation to its prey, however, because it could run and leap like the dickens, and its front and rear limbs sported what paleontologist Robert DePalma calls "essentially grappling hooks" for slicing and dicing flesh. Whoa. Think about how challenging appendages like that would make shaking hands, changing the sheets, blowing your nose, and using a keyboard. I admit they would come in handy for making fruit salad and slicing bread into cubes for Thanksgiving stuffing.

Thanksgiving is November 26th. While you're preparing for the holiday, don't forget something to read. Over the next few days, I'll tell you about some books you might want to consider. If you're traveling, you'll need a book for the trip; if you're staying put and playing host, you'll need one for that moment when––after spending hours scrubbing and tidying––you come to your senses and remember your guests want to share the festivities rather than conduct a germaphobic's field test of your premises. Don't think about your cleanliness-obsessed mom or your anal-retentive Uncle Mortimer, and ditch the dust cloth, pour yourself a glass of wine, and curl up with a book. Then, at the end of the Big Day, whether you've played host or guest, you'll also need a book to occupy your mind before you fall asleep. After all, you don't want to just lie there wondering if you'll be able to get your jeans zipped up in the morning, do you?

We'll begin with an ingenious cat-and-mouse game––among a bunch of hit men hunting their targets and each other. The hero of Chris Holm's riveting The Killing Kind (Mulholland Books, September 2015) is Michael Hendricks, who adores his girlfriend and couldn't stand to see an animal suffer. This sweetie pie joined the US Army and became a super-duper special ops soldier. When his unit was destroyed in Afghanistan, Hendricks was assumed dead. He sneaked back to the United States, but he felt too contaminated by violence to even let his grieving girlfriend know he's still alive. Now Hendricks lives off the grid and tries "to make things right, one murder at a time."

This means Hendricks calls a crime syndicate's targets for assassination––if he deems them morally worth saving––and offers to protect them for 10 times what their assigned hit man would make. Of course, Hendricks doesn't know what the pro killer looks like or exactly when the murder is scheduled to happen, so Hendricks usually must wait until the hit is attempted to take out the hitter. Eventually the syndicate bosses discover what's going on, and Hendricks himself becomes prey.

Holm's intelligent writing is perfect for this plot. It makes for an action thriller that's neither boringly shallow nor mind-numbingly convoluted. The Killing Kind has its gory moments, but it's not a senseless blood bath. The point of view skips around among various well-drawn and entertaining characters, allowing us to get to know each one and adding to the suspense. I cared whether Hendricks lived or died, right up to the cinematic ending. Please, somebody, make this into a movie.

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