Five Writers who Know How to Kill a Man

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…and who aren’t George R.R. Martin. Let’s leave out the most contemporary and obvious one: George R.R Martin. If you have ears or eyes or know someone who has ears or eyes, then you know Martin’s imagination is epic, and he applies it to the dismantlement of the human body. If characters are cognizant, and I like to think they are, then when one realizes they have been borne into Game of Thrones they probably mutter the Westeros equivalent of “Oy vey” and wonder if they will be melted or eaten by dogs or zombies.

Here are five other writers who are enormously adept at killing a man off. And by “man” I mean anyone or anything with a face, a mother, and a heartbeat that’s on borrowed time.

Stephen King

OK, the obvious one. Stephen King’s talents lie in horror, killing people, clowns, killing people, dissuading people from making fun of the prom queen, and killing people. But because of his ubiquity in the horror genre, King is often overlooked as a writer of tremendous power and whose blood runs as cold as a snake’s fridge. In winter.

What sets him apart from other writers is that he does not care who you are. Other thriller writers might threaten children or the cuddly family pup, but then rescue them at the last moment to ensure that the reader isn’t too shocked and disturbed. But nobody is safe in a King story. Pregnant women. Little kids looking for their paper boat. Children. Family dogs. All have seen their end in Stephen King stories in ways so graphic and horrid so as to make the reader yearn for the safety of a black widow nest.

For examples of King’s cruelty check out Salem’s Lot, Cujo, and It. Cycle of the Werewolf is my favorite; it’s a novella so there’s more kill per page.

Larry McMurtry

Life in the American West was not easy and as proof, you have the books of one of the great American storytellers, Larry McMurtry. Like any great storyteller, he knows that sometimes in a story it’s time to die. Very, very brutally.

Comanche Moon and Lonesome Dove are two of the greatest westerns ever written. (NB: They’re no slouch in the literature department either, Lonesome Dove won the Pulitzer in 1985). And most of the characters that die in them do so in violent and rather grisly manners. Such was life when you wandered out of a town in the nineteenth century and was especially true of those who run afoul of the Comanche, whose creed essentially was to praise Mother Nature, Father Earth and to ruin the frick out of anyone who’s ticked you off or just happened to be nearby and not Comanche at the same time.

So you have lots of creative death and dismemberment that makes you squirm in your seat and implore the literature gods. This includes such hits as skinning people alive and letting them rot in the sun, so (read: too) much emasculation, chewing off fingers, pulling intestines from a living person and tying them to a tree to serve as coyote food, or slow roasting people over fires.

It’s awful(ly wonderful).

Cormac McCarthy In a past life, I think I was the guy who discovered the role pepperoni plays in the pizza world.  Cormac McCarthy, on the other hand, was the world’s happiest executioner. In the world of literature, there is violence and then there is Cormac McCarthy. The basement scene in The Road will make you long for the warmth and comfort of The Walking Dead, the random violence in No Country for Old Men will keep you away from anyone carrying a bolt pistol or, at the very least, Javier Bardem. Cormac McCarthy would kill his mother in a book. And I would pay to read that book.

McCarthy’s magnum opus in terms of violence (and literature) is Blood Meridian. A noted anti-western and consistently listed on best book lists (including Time’s 100 Best English Language Books from 1923-2005), this book is infamous for not only its horrific violence, but the intense, biblical, near perfection of McCarthy’s writing that delivers it to the reader. Consider this passage below, depicting an attack of Comanche on a band of U.S. soldiers (and try not to crap yourself).

“A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained wedding-veil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with the old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses’ ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hillarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet that the brimstone land of christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools … After sweeping through the group, the attackers “pass[ed] theirs blades about the skulls, snatching aloft the bloody wigs and hacking and chopping at the naked bodies” (McCarthy, 54).  The attackers even appear “so slathered up with gore they might have rolled in it like dogs”     

I omitted the sodomy and scalping performed on the soldiers as they were dying. (You’re welcome.) Blood Meridian introduced me to the term thrapple, the fact that I had one, and the further fact that it could be cut in half with an axe while I was in bed with a hooker.

Neither Cormac McCarthy nor Blood Meridian is for the weak-stomached, but he is one of the greatest writers and it is one of the best books I have ever read.

Plus, thrapple.

H.P Lovecraft

Lovecraft was a horror writer who loved his mother a little too much and disliked people who didn’t look like him a lot too much. Still, he was pretty brilliant. Not only was he a brilliant horror writer, but wrote in a distinctive linguistic style that is unique. If you are a budding writer you should read Lovecraft and study his style.

He could definitely be violent, but there are many horror writers out there who have more violently depicted death than Mr. Lovecraft. Where Lovecraft really showed his cruel brilliance was in what happens to the characters before they die. Namely, they go absolutely insane. So instead of gory depictions of a guy dying, it’s the slow tortuous description of the guy’s submarine drifting along the seafloor as he goes increasingly more insane that really makes you squint. The guy’s friends die off or off themselves one by one and he’s left alone and falling deeper into the mouth of madness. By the end, you’re really just happy the guy’s dead. And so is he.

And he wrote like 90 million stories, so you get to see a lot of characters do this.

Louis de Bernières

Novelist and short story writer Louis de Bernières not only compelling, fascinating, and funny stories, but he does so in style that is precisely vividly carefree. If you have writing aspirations this may induce you to scream in jealousy, if only you weren’t totally entranced by it. That’s how he gets you. He’s brilliant.

A great deal of his talent goes to making you fall in love with a character for 298 pages and then (often literally) tearing them in pieces in front of your horrified eyes. It could be a rabbit in a short story in Notwithstanding, a soldier in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, or a charming village girl who struggles through hardship with a smile on her face for 350 pages only to stumble across the path of two psychotic killers in one of the novels in his Columbian trilogy. It happens all the time. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If you have seen the movie Corelli’s Mandolin, then Nicholas Cage owes you $12.99 to buy the book to wipe the memory of the movie out of your mind forever. Fortunately, this marvelous novel will more than redeem the movie.









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