Crime Fiction: Do You Prefer Raw or Pasteurized?
Updated: Feb 17
Written by Elias McClellan
I have been really lucky to meet some wonderful people on Twitter. One of those fabulous peeps is Elias McClellan aka TuttleNTexas...I finally got him to put pen to paper (actually fingers to keyboard) and write me a blog post. He has not disappointed! He has infused his wonderful sense of humor with a fantastic and informative article. Enjoy and make sure to follow him on Twitter.
Crime fiction works best when it is visceral, raw, as opposed to pasteurized. One of the most pasteurized crime tropes is the hit-man. You’ve read or, more likely watched, the hit-man fighting to escape the life, for redemption, or for a zillion-dollar (in gold bullion) payday. All of which has as much basis in reality as flying monkeys.
I know what you’re thinking.
So, are there hit-men or not?
Well, do they at least drive exotic cars, live in mansions, and have a Batcave full of tech guns?
Um, no. Which leads to the next, obvious question.
Then what’s the point?
Exactly! Why would a person decide to do someone else’ dirty work if there isn’t a pile of cash and sexy abs waiting at the other end? And that motivation, whatever it is, is the conflict spark that is missing from the hit-men, contract killers, HMO doctors, that populate most fiction. The best, most visceral, fiction has a basis in fact. The closer that you hewn to the facts, the richer your plot options.
So, smart guy, who’s a real hit-man?
Richard Kuklinski, made famous by HBO’s “The Iceman” was a member of mobster Roy DeMeo’s crew. For those keeping score at home, Kuklinski is estimated to have killed between 70 and 200 people. No one knows for sure as he was a psychopath and lied like a cheap rug.
What is known, however, is he was more likely to bludgeon victims to death with a tire iron as shoot them. Kuklinski was paid nothing for the contract killings for DeMeo. It was considered “other duties as assigned.” He made his money on car-theft, drugs, and pirating porn. His motivation, the psychopathy, is likely a result of profound abuse suffered as a child.
Benjamin (Lefty Guns) Ruggiero claimed 26 hits as a soldier in the Bonanno Crime family and lived in constant fear of getting "whacked" by one of his own people. He was still making hits in his 50s—for free. What little money he made, (Joe Pistone, aka Donnie Brasco, said Lefty was always broke) came from loansharking and bookmaking. The hits were “favors,” that a loser, like Lefty, didn’t dare refuse.
But it’s different for government agents, right?
CIA asset Félix Rodríguez gave the order for Che Guevara’s assassination but a drunken Bolivian soldier did the deed. Rodríguez got US citizenship, CIA “business” connections, and El Che’s Rolex. The soldier got to flee the country and live the rest of his life in fear. The last record of the hit-man is cataract removal—by a Cuban medical outreach in Paraguay.
Francesco Gullino, the prime suspect in the 1978 Bulgarian Umbrella Assassination of Georgi Markov in London, allegedly did the deed to stay out of Bulgarian prison for smuggling. See a trend?
In his excellent book on agency involvement in multiple African intrigues, John Stockwell, noted that rarely does anyone, (official) know what happened. A field officer gets a medal, the asset gets citizenship, a scholarship, or a research grant, and a local takes the credit—or the fall.
Please understand, I’m not saying there can’t be or shouldn’t be an assassin in your book. Just remember the details that inform the drama. And, please, for the love of Mickey Spillane, drop the designer suits and James Bond antics.
Elias McClellan is an accountant for a state agency never to be named but aspires to commi—write, write crime. You can find him on Twitter at @TuttleNTexas. But why would you want to do that?