cover image The Kills

The Kills

Richard House. Picador, $35 (1,024p) ISBN 978-1-250-05243-8

Longlisted for the Man Booker, House’s thousand-plus-page novel is an intense, frustrating yet unforgettable tale of U.S. contractors working amid corruption, betrayal, and murder in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The novel is made up of four books. The first, “Sutler,” follows Brit John Ford (aka Sutler), a contractor at Camp Liberty in Baghdad. After employer Paul Geezler of HOSCO International instructs him to draw his final payment using a convoluted system of accounts, a deadly explosion sends Sutler on the run; Geezler claims the contractor stole $53 million from funds allocated for the Massive, a military complex to be built in the desert. The Massive exists only on paper, in contrast to Camp Liberty’s burn pits for destroying medical and military waste, which are very real but undocumented. The second book, entitled “The Massive,” follows the men who tend the burn pits, as each meets a premature demise. In the fourth book, “The Hit,” Sutler is sighted at three separate locations, and Geezler goes missing. Set apart from books one, two, and four, the third book, “The Kill,” set in Naples and populated with prostitutes and language students, is metafiction at its most gruesome. While it’s different from the other three books, it addresses the same themes: how do killers become killers? How do victims become victims? How do perpetrators turn into victims, and vice versa? How do money, people, places, and crimes disappear? House probes but does not answer these questions. He presents intriguing characters and enthralling scenarios, then leaves readers to make sense of it all. This huge undertaking is notable for its ambition, and it seduces with both its shortcomings and its accomplishments. (Aug.)