Book Review : C.S DeWildt - Kill 'em with Kindness (2016)
If Horton had a single strength, it was looking the other way.
The most despicable people I've ever met all had one thing in common: they all tried really hard to convince me their actions didn't define them. They were all profoundly deluded about themselves: a killer's forever a killer once he takes a life, a rapist's forever a rapist once they force themselves upon others, etc. * They're delusional in an interesting and very human way. It's a human quirk most crime fiction has yet to catch up to. Fictional rapists are the embodiment of rape: boundless animals slaving over their impulses. Fictional killers are violent control freaks who get off on playing God. Bad guys are often boring.
C.S DeWildt's new novel Kill 'em with Kindness features a wicked case of domestic violence, post-traumatic stress disorder and the best damn antagonist I've read in 2016. It draws a complex, engaging and fearless portrait of a reality that's most often swept under the rug. Kill 'em with Kindness is a home run, yet a serious gut check. Readers beware: DeWildt's new novel is like moonshine. Delicious, but not for everybody.
Nick Gillis is a small-time pot grower who's given up on life after his pregnant wife committed suicide in their garage. He's not a businessman by any means. He just wants to make enough money to keep grieving eternally without having to face real life. It works out pretty well for him until his path crosses Kimmy's. Local kingpin Chad Toll's girlfriend. Nick gets her out of a legal bind by stopping her beating on Chad's side chick with a pool cue and driving her home. That's how Nick starts getting involved with Chad, a lonely, bored and bloodthirsty criminal looking for excitement.
The primary reason why Kill 'em with Kindness stood out to me is that Chad Toll is fucking terrifying. C.S DeWildt introduces him as an arrogant bro in the first chapter, then as a manipulator and a psychopath soon after. He only gets more complicated and engaging after that. Even when he's not featured in a chapter, his presence can be felt. Characters talk about him. They refuse to tell each other information because they're afraid of him. Chad Toll is both Jim Jones and Tony Montana. A charismatic leader and a ruthless killer. He has absolute power over his environment and his many excesses are the greatest force that shapes Kill 'em with Kindness.
"Doesn't seem like I have much of a choice." Chad Smirked. "There's always a choice, Nick. Don't fool yourself. You got a choice. You always got one."
Chad stood from his chair. "You make your choice by morning. I hate to rush a man through his chance to choose. So go. Use your time. I got churches to burn."
Another thing I really liked from Kill 'em with Kindness is that it went far beyond moral obviousness on domestic violence. Of course, there is no reason to hit a woman you're supposed to love. It goes without saying and I don't need a 200 pages novel to remind me of that. C.S DeWildt digs much deeper into the issue. There is no scene of domestic violence in Kill 'em with Kindness, but the physical and psychological backlash are portrayed in full effect through Kimmy's injuries and the townsfolk hesitation to get involved. Chad Toll is a fearsome symbol of self-made success in his town and people don't feel the need to muddle their relationship to him to help Kimmy. It's ugly, but it rings true and shows Nick Gillis' character under his depressed slacker facade.
I love reading C.S DeWildt. He doesn't give a fuck. He will throw the ugliness of human nature at your face and dare you not to like it. Many contemporary noirists are compared to Jim Thompson because it's convenient and flattering, but none does Thompson's violent, borderline surreal, morally bankrupt narrative like DeWildt does. His novels feel edgy and dangerous, like reading them was borderline illegal. I liked C.S DeWildt's Love You to a Pulp, but Kill 'em with Kindness is a significantly better, angrier and more challenging novel. Count it it as one of my early favorites for my year-end lists.
* Not that I ever met any of both. I'm sure you see my point though.