Supposedly it only takes a small group of concerned individuals to change the world, but judging by Kris Hollington's new book, Wolves, Jackals, And Foxes: The Assassins Who Changed History, that group probably has a high-ranking target and a whole lot of guns. Hollington calls assassination an "underrated tool" for altering the course of government, and the evidence he provides makes the point hard to dispute. Again and again, he recounts the efforts of a few driven killers who slipped past bodyguards and armored cars to murder presidents, whistle-blowers, and heads of state. Some victims suffer from a lack of proper protection, but even the tightest security measures can be undone by bad luck and the whims of a madman. It's enough to make anybody want to stay in for the night.
Wolves gives a loose history of freelance executions in the second half of the 20th century, beginning with a failed attempt on President Truman's life, and ending with the efforts that former Yugoslavian and Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic made to silence an informant. In between, there's a lot of death. Each chapter focuses on one major assassination, describing the climate that motivated the killing and the resultant fallout in sometimes-tedious detail. The cumulative effect is numbing, although a few pertinent details emerge. Assassins fall into one of three groups: professionals who kill for profit, idealists who kill for their beliefs, and unbalanced loners who kill for obsession or attention. But whatever the motives, an achieved kill always winds up with the same results—chaos.
In his introduction, Hollington offers an in-depth study of the causes, psychology, and success rates of various assassins, but he never really delivers on that promise. While the descriptions of the attacks are gripping and engaging, Hollington approaches background details with a kind of spray-and-pray style that leads to unnecessary information and a general lack of focus. Wolves is less an assessment of high-profile murders than a series of action setpieces, individually exciting but without the necessary connective tissue to make them anything more. Hollington's breathless writing style, with its tendency toward hyperbole, doesn't help. A stronger sense of purpose and tighter editing could've done wonders, but as is, it's a book with too much ammunition and not enough targets.