The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Execution-Style Murders

ExecutionMurdersThe Crime Fiction Alphabet meme is now one fifth of the way through our worrisome wanderings through the letters of the alphabet. I am, as always, grateful to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for the exciting journey thus far. Today’s stop is the E Resort and Spa and quite frankly, I’m ready for a nice rest. While everyone else is checking email and ‘phoning home, I’ll share my contribution for this stop: execution-style murders. Crime fiction is full of examples of what happens when one falls afoul of the wrong people. Actually it’s probably better to stay away from certain kinds of people to begin with but it’s even better to avoid getting them angry enough to kill. Because they do.

Just ask Tony Aliso, a mediocre filmmaker of mediocre movies whose death is the subject of Michael Connelly’s Trunk Music. When Aliso’s body is discovered in the trunk of his Rolls Royce, it’s assumed that this was a Mafia ‘hit.’ The murder has all the hallmarks of a Mob kill and Aliso was living far beyond his legal means. But somehow, the LAPD doesn’t seem to be too eager to find out who the killer is even though it could mean bringing down a criminal organisation. The police department’s reluctance doesn’t stop Harry Bosch though. Bosch investigates Aliso’s personal and professional lives and soon finds a ‘money trail’ that leads to a shady Las Vegas casino – and to a reunion with his old flame Eleanor Wish, who is now a professional gambler. In the end, Bosch finds out who killed Aliso and why, and how the criminal organisation he’s after fits in with the rest of the case.

In Henry Chang’s Year of the Dog, NYPD detective Jack Yu is temporarily assigned to Manhattan’s Ninth Precinct to fill in for some colleagues who are taking time off at the end of the year. He returns to his usual Fifth Precinct though, when a gang war threatens to erupt. Yu’s old friend Tat ‘Lucky’ Louie has become a local Mob leader; his gang is called Ghost Legion. Tat and his gang are upset because lately, there’ve been several surprise raids on the local gangs. Tat suspects that incoming gangs from Hong Kong are tipping off police so that they can take over the local gangs’ territories. Tat wants Yu’s help to find out whether the Hong Kong gangs are behind the raids. Yu refuses and the conflict between the local mobs and the Hong Kong incomers forms an important element in this novel.

Tonino Benacquista’s Badfellas takes another kind of look at ‘execution-style’ murders. The Blake family, a supposedly normal American family, moves into a home in Cholong-sur-Avre, Normandy. They’ve moved to Normandy so that Frederick Blake can write a history of the Normandy invastion and it seems that the family soon settles in. Frederick’s wife Maggie devotes herself to charity work and their children devote themselves to television, the Internet, new friends and other adolescent obsessions. But the Blake family is not a normal family. They are really the Manzoni family and the father, Giovanni Manzoni, was a member of the New Jersey Mafia. He testified against the rest of the Mob so he and his family were placed in the US Federal Witness Protection Program. They’ve been relocated to Normandy and given new identities. The only problem is that before long, word gets back to the head of the New Jersey Mob that Giovanni Manzoni is alive and well. Now the ‘Blakes’ have to deal with the very real possibility that the Mob will find them, and will not exactly greet them kindly.

Of course, execution-style killings aren’t just Mob-related. For instance, Donna Leon’s Blood From a Stone begins with the execution-style shooting of an unknown Senegalese immigrant. He’s laying out his wares at an open-air market one morning when he is murdered. Commissario Guido Brunetti and Ispettore Lorenzo Villanello lead the investigation into the murder. Because the man was killed by professionals, no-one has seen anything really significant, so at first, there’s not much evidence. What’s more, the man wasn’t anyone of importance – just another illegal immigrant. So there’s not much public interest. But eventually Brunetti and Vianello trace the man to the room he rented, where they find a cache of diamonds. It turns out that this man’s execution had to do with ‘conflict diamonds’ and illegal arms trafficking.

Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage features several cases that Dublin DS Bob Tidey and Detective Garda Rose Cheney investigate. One of them is the execution-style murder of banker Emmet Sweetman, who’s been shot in the entryway of his own home. As the detectives examine the victim’s life, they discover that he had been caught up in the ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom and had taken advantage of the sudden wealth that was available during those years. The seemingly inexhaustible supply of money fed Sweetman’s greed and his confidence so that he took increasingly risky decisions. When the financial situation in Ireland began to fall apart, so did many of the shady deals Sweetman had made. When he didn’t pay the money he owed, Sweetman made some very dangerous people very angry, and they sought their own sort of justice. It turns out that this case has a link to another case that Tidey and Cheney work on, a heist that goes terribly, tragically wrong.

And then there’s Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money. In that novel, Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan is hired by Madeleine Avery to find her brother Charles. His last-known whereabouts was Bangkok, so Quinlan travels there. When he gets to Avery’s apartment though, he discovers the body of Avery’s business partner Robert Lee. He also finds clues that suggest that Avery has gone to Cambodia. Quinlan continues his search in Phnom Penh, where he meets journalist’s assistant Heng Sarin. With Sarin’s help, Quinlan starts asking questions about Avery. Although most people aren’t willing to talk, the two sleuths do learn a few things. One is that Avery had been involved in some shady deals with the wrong people. That in itself put him in danger. What’s more, he claimed to know where there was a hidden cache of gold. That too made him the target of some people who are not afraid to kill for that much wealth. Quinlan and Sarin trace Avery to northern Cambodia, where the gold is supposedly hidden, if it even exists. The closer they get to the truth of that rumour, as well as the truth about Avery, the more in danger Quinlan and Sarin are. There are some very powerful people who are not at all concerned about having these two killed to keep the truth about the gold and about Avery secret. This novel also weaves in another ‘execution’ theme – the execution-style murders of millions of people that the Khmer Rouge saw as ‘enemies’ or ‘threats.’

So, you see? It’s important to be careful about the company you keep. The old saying is, ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ Especially if they have weapons. So…Shall we talk some business? I know a guy who knows a guy…  😉



Filed under Andrew Nette, Donna Leon, Gene Kerrigan, Henry Chang, Michael Connelly, Tonino Benacquista

22 responses to “The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Execution-Style Murders

  1. Your topic for the day reminded me of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather – the original book. I read it as an open-mouthed teenager, shocked but thrilled, and of course I have seen the films. But I re-read the book not too long ago, and was very impressed with it. It is not particularly well-writtten, but its energy and drive are impressive, and I love the way it shows us a complete and convincing world. I was fascinated to read (in Vanity Fair I think) that although it is always thought of as well-researched, in fact Puzo made up a lot of it – but the Mafia themselves loved the book, so actually adopted many of his ideas and vocabulary. (I believe something similar happened with John le Carre.) Anyway – like most people my age, I can instantly summon up memories of various executions/killings in both book and film.

    • Moira – Oh, that book was, for me, a groundbreaker. You’re quite right that it is so very vivid and realistic, and the action and pacing are right for the kind of novel it is. I’m not surprised that the real Mob liked the book a lot. There are several really memorable characters and yes, quite memorable executions…

  2. I definitely think about the Mob when I think about execution-style murders. But you’ve come up with some other great examples! Would be interesting trying to fit it into a cozy…ha! It would require some glossing over… 🙂

    • Elizabeth – You know, I’d not thought of putting an ‘execution’ kind of killing in a cosy, but it make make for a very interesting story. But yeah, you’d have to go light on the details… 😉

  3. kathy d.

    Perhaps this column can answer the decades-old mystery of “What ever happened to Jimmy Hoffa”? Gone without a trace. Almost definitely a mob hit, leaving no evidence behind.
    Having just finished Peter Temple’s excellent (and hilarious) Bad Debts, the protagonist, Jack Irish finds several mob-style killings or attempted murders; lots of people are eliminated with seemingly no evidence to nail the perpetrators. Guys with submachine guns try to wipe out the main character and his ally. Clearly, gangsters are at work, in collaboration with a lot of others. Quite a conspiracy here.
    This is an element of many mysteries. It’s a quirky aspect and adds interest to a story. It’s even involved in Irene Huss’s latest case, which is hinted at by the murder method, cold, hard, with seemingly no evidence or trail, where victims just disappear.

    • Kathy – I’d love to know the real truth about Jimmy Hoffa too. I really would. And yes, there are plenty of ‘bad guys’ in Bad Debts who are not afraid to – er – remove anyone in their ways. I’m very glad you enjoyed it as much as you did.
      Oh, and thanks for mentioning The Golden Calf. That’s a very well-written series.

  4. A great list Margot. A reminder as well that I need to read some more Michael Connelly books. I’ve only read a couple and loved them and keep meaning to get more. I may sort out the list order today and start from the beginning 🙂

  5. Oh, I can’t think of any books with this style of murder but I love the premise. When you have an execution murder, it’s a lot harder to find the culprit because sometimes the killer doesn’t have a motive. Great post again.

    • Clarissa – Thanks – I’m glad you enjoyed the post. And that’s just exactly what makes an execution-style murder so hard to trace. There’s no obvious connection between killer and victim unless you start really digging.

  6. Margot, another interesting post for the Crime Fiction Alphabet. I cannot think of any examples, but I am eager to try some of the books you have listed. Especially the Andrew Nette book and the book by Gene Kerrigan. I have not heard of Tonino Benacquista’s Badfellas, but that sounds like it could be good.

    • Tracy – The Benacquista is a little different to some of the others. It focuses more on the ‘Blake’ family and their attempts to fit in in their new life in Normandy as much as it does on mt ‘Mob stuff.’ It’s wickedly funny too (at least I think so). I hope that if you read it, you’ll enjoy it. The Kerrigan and the Nette are both terrific thrillers in my opinion, with strong characters. Although they’re quite different, both authors have the ability to convey violence without getting gratuitous, and to keep the action going without forgetting about the characters.

  7. I haven’t read any of the books you mention, Margot and I think there’s a reason – I don’t really lie execution style murders. Way to gruesome for me – and you weren’t able to use an Agatha Christie in this post 😉

    • Sarah – You know, I’m not much into gruesome myself. I sort of have a low threshold. I personally didn’t find any of these too gruesome to really enjoy, but of course, everyone’s different about that sort of thing. And you’re right; Christie didn’t do ‘execution’ plots. Perhaps she didn’t like the thought either…

  8. I like how you’re ending these … the “quip” at the end. 🙂

    You see these execution-style murders a lot on television. Have you ever watched the TV series, Cold Case? That’s one example. Etc! 😀

    On 5/5/13, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…

    • Thanks – I’m glad you like that. And I am a major fan of Cold Case. I watched it eagerly during the seven years of its run, and I watch re-runs all the time.

  9. I wonder how many different ways there is to murder somebody. 🙂

  10. col

    I’ll have to check Donna Leon out as I’ve never read her. And I need to increase my range of female authors. I really enjoyed Ghost Money and Rage though, as well as the Connelly book though it’s a few years since I read that one. Tracy gave me the heads up on Henry Chang, Badfellas is already on TBR.
    Have you read any of George V. Higgins early stuff? The Friends of Eddie Coyle springs to mind…..small time hoods, mafia crime family, undercover cops and hit men, violent but very readable.

    • Col – Oh, you know I hadn’t thought of The Friends of Eddie Coyle in a long time. As you say, it is violent, but I think it’s realistic and certainly a great example of the sort of ‘execution-style’ murders I had in mind when I wrote this post. I hope that if you get the chance to read Donna Leon, you’ll like her work. Really fine sense of setting (Venice) and context, and I love the characters.

  11. Great post, Margot! I know I’ve read some books where it looked like an execution-style murder but then it wound up that was just to throw the police off track. But for the life of me I can’t come up with one now. I’ll think of something in the middle of the night…. 🙂

    • Bev – LOL! I’ve done that too. It’s interesting isn’t it how those ideas/memories/whatever come to us at times like that. But you’re right that there are novels like that.

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