PEOPLE DIE tells the story of JJ, a man who shoots people for a living. Told from the main characterâ€™s point of view, the reader experiences life as JJ sees it.
JJ kills a target in a Moscow hotel room. A young woman is in the room; she fascinates him in a way he doesnâ€™t understand; he senses something about her, something vital, yet elusive. JJ spares her life.
When his controller is murdered, JJ knows somethingâ€™s wrong. He kills a young man because there isnâ€™t time to establish bona fides. JJ finds his girlfriend dead and leaves Paris.
The aftermath of this routine hit engulfs JJ. British Intelligence authorized the killing. In London JJ takes no prisoners. He and others have been marked for death. A meeting with a CIA friend sheds some light. Someone JJ thought was dead is gunning for him.
Seeking information, the most valuable commodity, JJ contacts a trusted friend. Finding betrayal instead, JJ is alone and running out of time. He kills his boss in his home while his children play in the kitchen. On the way out JJ sees the manâ€™s wife hurrying home from work. He speculates as to what her reaction will be when she finds her husband dead, not knowing she was spared the loss of her children.
The scene articulates JJâ€™s unique insularity; he can speculate but not empathize. He can feel regret if not remorse.
As he races through his personal night of the long knives, he never loses focus. To get what he needs, JJ kills. A visit to a former lover reminds him of how alone he is, JJ learns that the secret of his dilemma may be found at a country inn in Vermont.
PEOPLE DIE weaves considerable back story elements into JJâ€™s trip to the States. The owner of the country inn is the widow of the man JJ killed in the opening scene. JJ observes a distilled grief and becomes fascinated with Jem, the dead manâ€™s fifteen-year-old daughter.
The last third of the novel is devoted to JJâ€™s quest to stay alive. The inn becomes a surrogate home base; Jem opens her world to him, a world JJ can see but not touch.
The novel ends in a way that both resolves the story issues and leaves the reader to wonder what JJ has learned during his foray into the consequences of his actions. Those consequences are both startling and provocative.
Kevin Wignallâ€™s spare style often reads like prose poetry; it casts equal amounts of light and shadow on JJâ€™s solitary milieu. Itâ€™s open to interpretation whether JJ has any hope for a normal life; a friend assures him that he does. JJ is the instrument of an invisible chain of command. The hit man as functionary bears an uncomfortable resemblance to much of modern employment, performed without emotion at the behest of a remote tribunal whose collective will must be served.