Can a book be deadly? That’s the question iHeartRadio original podcast Hit Man sets out to answer. Hosted by StoryCorps’ Jasmyn Belcher Morris, the series delves into what is often referred to as “the most dangerous publisher in the world,” Paladin Press, and its most controversial title, Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors.
The podcast starts off hot, drawing in true crime fans with the story of story of Lawrence Horn, a famous Motown Records producer who hired a hitman to kill his wife, son and his son’s nurse in the early 1990s. The title of the show does double duty here; Horn worked with the likes of the Supremes, the Temptations and the Jackson Five. After he got laid off from Motown, though, he fixated on a $1.7 million trust fund that had been established for his disabled son. That’s where everything really starts to go to hell.
At this point, Hit Man may seem like your run-of-the-mill murdercast, but it deftly avoids going down that well-trod and bloody path by focusing more on the most unconventional of murder instruments: a book. Horn hires a former street preacher, James Perry, to do the deed; Perry then buys the titular book from Paladin Press. The murders that follow are, quite literally, textbook. Perry followed the advice in the tome to the letter to commit his misdeeds — and he wasn’t the only killer to do so.
A quick Paladin primer: According to an archived history on its now defunct website, the press was founded in the early Seventies by former military men Peder Lund and Robert K. Brown. Both ardent fans of the first amendment, they churned about books about weapons, warfare and survivalism. It shut down in 2017 after Lund passed away.
Packed with out-there characters — mysterious author Rex Feral, eccentric gun-toting publisher Lund — Hit Man gives us more to ruminate on than just murder. The mystery isn’t who killed who — the true villain doesn’t even draw blood (we don’t think). Instead it’s a multi-layered whodunit that questions the very concept of intent. In a genre over-bloated with gleeful rubber-necking, Hit Man is… well… a hit.