October 7, 2023
Killers for Hire

Killers for Hire

The best killers for hire in fiction

C.J. Washington

The killer for hire is a staple of crime fiction, for good reason. As those who do the dirty work of others, they occupy a unique space in the criminal world. They commit murder for money, but they may or may not enjoy the act of taking a life. Some will kill anyone if the price is right while others need justification.

Many seem to lack a conscience, but a few rely on coping mechanisms to mitigate their guilt. They come in many forms and flavors, and the rarest are those we can’t help but like, or at least respect, even as we’re appalled by their violence. But why would we ever like them?


The Unlikely Killer for Hire

My personal favorite is the unlikely killer for hire. By unlikely, I don’t mean to suggest they aren’t good at their job. They can be as ruthless and efficient as any other contract killer. Instead, they possess quirks that are at odds with their profession. Melvin Smiley from the 1998 film The Big Hit is a quintessential example. An indifferent killer, Melvin suffers severe mental distress whenever anyone is angry with him. From his run ins with a surly video rental store clerk to the demands of his churlish girlfriend, he chugs antacids to cope with awkward social situations, only at ease it seems when he’s doing what he does best: murder for hire.

Barry, from the television series Barry, is another unlikely hitman. A skilled and efficient killer prone to depression, Barry is plagued with a conscience. Sometimes. When he stumbles upon an acting class, he thinks he’s found a vehicle to self-discovery and a way out of the killing business. As many aspiring actors learn, however, the road to stardom is rarely easy or linear, even for a guy who desperately needs a career change.


The Killer for Hire You’d Have Over for Dinner

Maybe you wouldn’t want a contract killer to have your home address. I wouldn’t. But some fictional killers for hire seem like nice people. They’re interesting. People you’d like to share a meal with. In a neutral, public location, of course. John Keller from Lawrence Block’s Hitman series is perpetually in pursuit of self-improvement. That might mean dabbling in therapy, talking through sensitive issues with his dog, or trying a new hobby like philately. A killer with a conscience, Keller occasionally goes off script during a job. And he’s second to none at extracting himself from tight spots. If you can get him to open up over a bottle of wine, you’re certain to hear some entertaining tales.

Billy Summers from the Stephen King novel Billy Summers uses his intellect for more than planning hits. He enjoys literature and even aspires to pen his own masterpiece. A charming, down-home guy, he only accepts jobs to kill bad people. He’s also thoughtful enough to ask: If bad people pay him to kill other bad people, where does that land him on the spectrum of human virtue? After dinner, especially if there are kids in the house, he’d be up for a game of Monopoly, but be forewarned: He plays to win.


The Little Killer for Hire That Could

Everyone loves an underdog, and even ruthless, competent killers can struggle in their personal lives. Martin Blank from the 1997 Film Grosse Pointe Blank confronts his fear of intimacy head on when he returns to Grosse Pointe for his ten-year high school reunion and faces the love of his life, a woman he abandoned without explanation a decade before. Overcoming relationship phobias is always a challenge, but a killer for hire carries unique baggage into the battle. His interactions with his therapist are strained by his job and then there is the matter of explaining his career choices to the woman of his dreams. His efforts are valiant, and it’s difficult not to root for him.


The Preternaturally Skilled Killer for Hire

Nena Knight from Yasmin Angoe’s Nena Knight series works for an organization called the Tribe, and each assassination is meant to further their cause. She is a killer with a mission. She may go off script occasionally but only in service of justice. She’s loyal and principled, and, yes, possesses crazy skills that demand respect. She’s the only killer for hire on the list who does her job to create a better world.

Like Nena Knight, many of Villanelle’s hits are political. Unlike Nena Knight, Villanelle seems uninterested in politics. It may not be easy to like Villanelle, the assassin from Luke Jenning’s Killing Eve book series, but it’s hard not to respect her. Trained in weapons combat by her father, her youthful acts of violence are in pursuit of justice, separately avenging her father’s murder and the unprosecuted rape of a teacher she’d grown close to. The savagery and brazenness of her crimes attracted the right (or wrong) attention, and hence began her journey to premier international assassin. Free of remorse, Villanelle enjoys killing and looks forward to the release. Even if you root for Eve, former MI5 agent, and Villanelle’s likable antagonist, you can hardly be blamed for wanting to see Villanelle live another day, just so the cat and mouse game can continue. Best of all, once you’ve finished the books, you can tune in to Hulu for the television series. I hope that John Keller, Billy Summers, and Nena Knight will soon join Villanelle, Melvin Smiley, Martin Blank, and Barry on the screen.

About the Author


C. J. Washington is a data scientist and writer. He has a master’s degree in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology and lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and daughter. You can find him on YouTube at www.youtube.com/channel/UCsmEyDzszlGAJ6nCLixMIUQ

Visit: www.cj-washington.com


CJ Washington

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