Killer is the story of Leonard March, a former hitman for Boston mob boss Sal Lombard. In 1993 he ratted on Lombard in return for a reduced sentence of fourteen years in prison instead of life. Now he’s been released an old man with no family, friends or money, nothing but a shitty apartment and a night job cleaning toilets. But that’s fine with Leonard, he realizes his time as a free man is measured in days instead of years, seeing how most likely somebody from Lombard’s crew or a family member of one of the twenty-eight men he killed during his career will get to him soon enough. Until the inevitable happens, Leonard’s just looking to be a different man, maybe reconnect some with his kids or, hell, any human being. But when he meets a mysterious beauty with an aim to ghostwrite his story, things start looking up for Leonard, or so it would seem…
Killer is the third in Dave Zeltserman’s loose trilogy about men just released from prison that includes Small Crimes and Pariah. Like those previous novels, it’s some of the most badass noir available today (though not Pariah-badass – that shit is as basement crazy as books get), and you better believe the Nerd advises your ass to go fucking get some toot-fucking-sweet.
Zeltserman’s prose is direct and his pacing swift, the story alternating every chapter from Leonard’s present day existence as a wary-of-everyone ex-con to his life in the sixties, seventies, eighties and early nineties doing hits for Lombard. March is a bad motherfucker and Zeltserman has the necessary stones to portray him as just that. March knows he’s doesn’t deserve mercy or pity, but he’s also not about to take any shit over who he is and what he’s done. He’s done his time and he has his reasons for ratting, and if you don’t like it, go ahead and try something.
This is arguably the quietest and most intimate of the trilogy, it is neither the riding-shotgun-with-a-psychopath hell ride that was Pariah nor a twistily plotted, emotionally devasting shocker like Small Crimes. There’s plenty of violence and the ending takes a stark turn that is extremely dark and satisfying, but this is the most character study-esque novel of the trio. Also, though March may have the highest body count of the three novels’ protagonists, he is arguably the most sympathetic, if that sounds fucked up enough for you.
Killer caps off one of the more striking runs in crime fiction of recent years, a series that was consistently darker, bleaker and more violent than practically anything else out there right now. When someone asks me what type of books I review (as if my fucking moniker was the least bit fucking vague), I usually give them a long drawn-out answer like, “Well, crime, but not usually mystery and not necessarily police procedurals or private eye shit but darker-” and then I watch their eyes glaze over as I try to further explain “noir” to them. If I were a man of infinite means, I would just carry around a bag full of Zeltserman’s “man out of prison novels,” shoving one into the interested party’s hands each time asked instead, assuring him that this shit simply is noir.