Kill Fee
Everything Has a Price

This is the story of a freelance killer, a hit man who goes into business for himself as an independent contractor with no ties to any criminal organization. A businessman, offering an unusual service.

The killer calls himself Pluto, and he's developed a unique way of running his operation: he kills on spec. Pluto looks for conflict between two people, kills one of them, and sends the other a bill. Would anyone be foolish enough to deny him payment? Pluto always collects.

Investigating one of Pluto's murders is Lt. James Murtaugh, whose advance on the New York police force had been blocked by an obdurate captain. Although Pluto's "clients" are afraid to talk, Murtaugh eventually sees what is happening and begins a hunt for the killer. Then Pluto starts stalking him.

The book is basically a battle of wits between these two men, much of it carried out through other characters in the story...a magazine editor, a landscape architect, a musician, etc. And other cops. It all builds to a climax complicated by departmental politics and cop loyalties. The story has what can best be described as a punch-in-the-gut ending.

I used the omniscient viewpoint to tell the tale, as no one character is in a position to know the whole story. And I made police procedure a bigger part of the action than in any of my previous books. Murtaugh later shows up in the Marian Larch books.

This is the only book for which Susanne Kirk, my Scribner editor, ever asked me to change the ending. The editor of the paperback reprint edition got wind of what was going on and called to say, "Don't you dare change that ending!" So I knew before the book was ever published that there would be divided reaction to the book's conclusion.

But it's the right ending, growing out of several things present in the story. Susanne, fortunately, is a rare editor who would never force her own preferences on a writer. Scribner published the ending exactly as I wanted it.


"This sharp-edged mystery features a cunning hit man named Pluto who painstakingly selects and researches his clients and victims. Lt. James Murtaugh, a seasoned police detective who has reached an impasse in his career, must outwit the unusually clever and businesslike executioner in order to salvage both his job and his self-respect....The well-wrought tension is heightened by a freakish twist that culminates in a particularly chilling conclusion. A sophisticated psychological thriller from the author of The Renewable Virgin."

Edmonton Journal:
"The twisted workings of the killer's mind as the detective tracks him are absolutely magnetic. Although this comment has probably been made by every reviewer in history about every detective novel in history, in this case it's particularly apt: Kill Fee is impossible to put down until you reach its surprise ending."

London Times:
"Taut, well-paced, full of surprises and sparky New York dialogue."

Chicago Sun-Times:
"Paul isn't content to wrap things up prettily, and the ending is a corker. Paul's economy of prose and fresh plot make Kill Fee perfect for a jaded mystery buff."

Madison Courier:
"Although there is no letting up of suspense throughout the book, the climax will leave you limp, and what will horrify you particularly is what is going to happen even after you have thought everything has been settled. This is an absorbing tale, full of action, suspense, interesting characters, and unusual twists."

N.Y.: Scribner, 1985, ISBN 0-684-18426-5
London: Collins, 1985, ISBN 0-00-231954-3
N.Y.: Bantam, 1986, ISBN 0-553-26225-4
Paris: Gallimard [as On tue et tu paies], 1987, ISBN 2-07-049074-2
Milano: Mondadori [as Il prezzo del delitto], 1987
Stockholm: Spänning [as Mördaren vill ha betalt], 1988
Helsinki: Kustannus Oy, 1988
München: R. Piper Verlag [as Mordsalär], 1988, ISBN 3-492-15543-X

Radio Production:
Paris: Raketa, 1990

TV Movie Options:
Telecom Entertainment, 1985
Quigley Productions, 1987
Perry Lafferty Productions, 1989
Kushner-Locke: NBC movie titled Murder: C.O.D., first telecast September 21, 1990

Page created June 28, 1995; last updated August 1, 1999. home