The Kills by Richard House
A dense and twisty series of linked stories that range across Europe, America and the Middle East, it is both an engrossing and a ferociously complex read. It centres on the corrupt misappropriation of funds meant to rebuild post-war Iraq, has a vivid cast of characters and creepy “meta” overtones – a book within a book that seems to echo murders in the other narrative strands.
At the start of the first book, Sutler, House pitches you the action without explanation. You tag along with his characters, hoping to catch up and find out who they are. A contractor known as Sutler gets blown up in Iraq and goes Awol with the access codes to snaffled funds that were supposedly allocated to build a city in the desert on the site of a half-civilian, half-military waste-burning dump. He ends up in Turkey, where he encounters a French film crew, two bickering German war correspondents, and an American boy with a star on his T-shirt who is reading the aforementioned creepy book.
The second book, The Massive, takes a jump, giving us the back stories and eventual fates of the men who manned the Iraqi waste dump and whom we briefly met at the beginning. The third, The Kill, is set more or less in Italy among a shifting cast of immigrants, horrifically abused prostitutes and foreign students at a language school, one of whom may have been abducted and murdered. In the fourth, The Hit, three youngish German siblings in Cyprus find themselves drawn into the pursuit of the errant Sutler.
That character – a sutler is a supplier of goods to soldiers – runs through the whole narrative. There are several deaths, some murderous and some horrifyingly random. The creepy book recurs, and the symbol of the star, and the idea of fraternal killers. There is also a cheeky hint throughout that stories may not actually be benign things.
• Richard House is at the Edinburgh International Book Festival tonight at 8pm
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