The Official Sweetie and I have been thoroughly enjoying a thriller on Netflix. It features high-end assassins doing high-end assassin stuff for high-end assassin payoffs. These killers live well, if not necessarily happily.

One of the sponsors for this show is an online housekeeping service that offers to clean your house for less. “I fired my housekeeper!” one customer gleefully says.

Uh, good for you, I guess. Some giant company is putting a lot of advertising muscle into driving down what housekeepers earn, and then taking a slice of what is left and keeping it for themselves. The business model is based on the premise “there will always be enough desperate people to work for shitty wages and make us rich.”

This is also known in Silicon Valley as “disrupting a market.”

So while watching these two things juxtaposed, I started to think: what would happen if Silicon Valley decided to disrupt the murder market?

There is a story I will likely never write taking shape in my head, and I’m on a train right now, and almost by magic my literary muscles are suddenly flexing after months of quiet. The story’s basic shape is that a suave international assassin suddenly finds himself competing for work against bargain-basement thugs who are considered disposable by their clients.

Then instead of limos his clients start sending Ubers with drunk and shitty drivers, and instead of fancy hotels they put him in AirBnB’s with all sort of privacy intrusions.

At the end of act one, Javier decides he needs to kill iSassin.

Here is how such a story might begin (if the dialog is a little too conveniently twisted to include the phrase ‘disrupt the murder market’, well, that would be something I fixed if I actually wrote this, but I’m not going to):


For Javier, there were five kinds of kills, each to accomplish a specific purpose. If the client simply wanted someone to not be around only longer, a “natural” death was called for. Or perhaps a tragic death, a terrible accident, would earn the client sympathy they might find useful. Of course, simple murder — a gunshot, swift and clean, or a cut throat — might fit the budget of the client. Occasionally Javier was asked to make things messy, to make an example of the victim.

Javier’s favorite type of kill, however, was the shocking, humiliating destruction of a person, a death that would be talked about with hushed whispers and the occasional laugh. Javier wasn’t just killing a person, he was killing what they stood for.

Today he was in a particularly good mood. The Senator would be found, apparently dead of a heart attack, wearing nothing but lipstick, a codpiece with spikes on the inside, and a massive rubber dildo standing tall and proud from his rectum. The senator’s associates in government and in the clergy would try to suppress the news, but of course they would fail.

He sipped his Islay single-malt and smiled as he looked out over the cityscape from his apartment high above the grime of the street. His lights were off, and he sat in darkness, watching the city lights, listening to Brahms and thinking he should turn it up a little louder. He took another sip of whisky instead.

His phone purred softly on the hardwood table by his soft leather chair, as another phone pinged to indicate a deposit had been made to an account in a bank far away.

Before he answered he engaged the voice encryption app and entered the key they had shared for the after-job call. “Hello, Meyer,” he said.

“Congratulations, Mr. Rodriguez.” Meyer said. Of course that was no more his actual name than Meyers was the name of the man calling him. “My supervisor is well-pleased.”

“Always glad to be of service,” Javy said. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Meyer’s organization, whoever they were, had been steady customers for a while.

Meyers hesitated. “Actually, Mr. Rodriguez, I have some bad news. My supervisor has decided to cut some costs, and I’m afraid you are one of those costs.”

“So… he or she has decided to not engage in this sort of business anymore?”

Meyers hesitated again. “No, it’s not that. It’s just that your services are frightfully expensive.”

“Are you trying to get me to lower my price? This is a high-risk business, and not just for me. Sloppy work could get you in trouble as well.”

“Oh, I agree,” Meyer said. “But what can you do? My supervisor recently discovered a service called iSassin. Have you heard of it?”


“iSassin. Apparently some Silicon Valley money guy has decided to ‘disrupt the murder space’. Quietly, of course. Most of the people listing themselves there seem perfectly competent.”

“Perfectly competent until something unexpected happens. This is bullshit and you know it.”

“Welcome to the future, Mr. Rodrigues.”


The Reapers

When one is in an airport bookstore after spending ten hours on a plane with no reading material, still looking at another few hours before reaching one’s final destination, one doesn’t take chances. One buys multiple books, in different genres, to ensure that the remainder of the journey will pass smoothly. If the first novel fails to please, there is always another.

In the above paragraph, I am the One. Among the books I purchased that fateful day was The Reapers: A Thriller, by John Connolly. Yep, they put the genre right into the title, so there could be no confusion. That might be a good thing, now that I think about it, because the ‘thriller’ part of the book is a pretty simple revenge-begets-revenge storyline without too much actual thrill. Sure, there’s some suspense (not that much, though), along with plenty of violence and action — people are thrust into bad situations and have to dig themselves out. Ultimately, though, the narrative seems to exist not to thrill but to provide the author a framework to explore the soul (or lack thereof) of people who can kill a stranger in the blink of an eye. Are such men born or made?

Connolly has written several stories featuring a detective named Charlie Parker; in this installment the crusty ex-detective plays a subordinate role as the author focuses on Louis, one dangerous mo-fo to be sure. Gay, black, soft-spoken, likes country music, frighteningly cold-blooded. Louis is unusual even among killers; his ego makes no demands, even when he is motivated by revenge. He doesn’t need to see the person die, he doesn’t need to make it poetic, doesn’t need to gloat, as long his target’s heart stops beating. (Although the author glosses over one purely egotistical touch that allows the bad bad guy to get away at one point.)

How did Louis come to be this way? It’s a long story, or a short story, depending on how you look at it. The short version: some people are just born that way. The long version is told over several long flashbacks. As a young man Louis is witness to a particularly horrific hate crime. More crimes against his family follow. After Louis takes his revenge he is discovered and nurtured (or at least trained) by men who work for The Government (or do they?). Louis is retired now, the only one of his group to walk away without being killed. Or so he thought. (insert dramatic sting)

To be honest, after a while the long backstory sections started to feel redundant, as if Mr. Connolly was himself unsure of his thesis that just because Louis was a cold-blooded killer doesn’t mean he’s a bad man. At least for me, he was selling past the close. I got it about two flashbacks before Connolly was ready to trust me that I got it, and move on with the story. The rest started to feel defensive.

Naturally to bring out the best in Louis in this story he must be confronted by a rival of similar pedigree. Turns out that he and his rival have each failed to kill the other on previous occasions. Not a bad set-up by Mr. Connolly.

One of the best things about this book: No one is safe. Even people you like, some little more than innocent bystanders, are fair game. There’s no guarantee that everyone will live happily ever after. That’s critical if you aspire to the title ‘thriller’, and in this case you better not let your guard down until you’ve closed the book. Maybe I have to take back what I said about about it not having much thrill.

Still, did I really have to know the whole backstory of the hired goon who gets whacked? Three pages of backstory for his half-page of action? No, I don’t think I needed to know that. Did I need the detailed description of a rifle, just to have the bad guy choose the other rifle? No, that just came off as the author showing off. Should someone who goes into such great detail about firearms refer to ‘clips’ in an autoloading pistol? Absolutely not.

This sort of story thrives on detail, but let’s keep it to the details that matter, please, and make sure our terminology is correct. Louis would never say ‘clip’ when he means ‘magazine’, and neither should the author.

Overall, however, the rather straightforward plot was very satisfactorily balanced by the character study of the central personality. He is a complex person, a perfect storm of intelligence, physical ability, and near-complete dispassion toward his victims. Was this a thriller? I can’t say I was on the edge of my seat. Wasn’t thrilled, per se. I was interested, and I was wrapped up in the action, however, and I really liked the central characters and they way Connolly introduced them to me. Overall, a pretty good read.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.